As my friends will attest, I’ve complained about software for years. As a User Group founder, tech writer, trainer and PC go-to guy, the software experience has long preoccupied me. Recently, while walking a small cocker spaniel named Lily, the perfect metaphor for my software disenchantment sprang to mind.
It’s all about walking the dog. I’m fond of Lily, but she can be something of a twit. Her only job, as her owner puts it, is to be spoiled. Left to her own devices, she’d as soon stay indoors. But put a leash on her and she’s all for taking a walk. Unfortunately she’s not interested in walking with me, or whoever is holding the other end of her leash. Trying to cross the yard with her is a field exercise in attention deficit disorder. Her nose takes over and she flits erratically across the terrain, darting off in all directions, routinely crossing behind my back. The idea of heeling, of paying attention and following my lead, is the furthest thing from her mind.
Most software today works like this. It doesn’t care what we want, and doesn’t follow our lead. It doesn’t pay attention to our behavior in order to anticipate it, and make our lives easier. In short, like Lily, most software doesn’t know how to heel! Instead, we are constantly required to "pull the dog" in the direction we take to accomplish our work. In Lily’s case, it’s a hyperactive nose that proves distracting. But for many software developers, intellectual vanity plays that role. Coders are in love with the "Next Big Thing," with creating the "innovation" that will "rewire our world." Many are cleverness junkies seeking to impress themselves and each other with their latest act of deftness.
In the process they’ve lost sight of the fact that true service is humble. They offer a surfeit of visionary zeal when what the world needs instead is devotion to the mind of ordinary users. It’s the collective input of ordinary people that make networks sing, and by which great things may be accomplished in the long run. Let us not be dazzled by the Internet in this regard, as impressive and innovative as it doubtless is. We do well to recall that while the mist may shimmer, it owes it’s existence to the warm waters below.