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A New Imaginary Parallel

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Time for new imaginary parallels.  The most common one we've all heard is that if Detroit had advanced as quickly as the computer industry has, we'd all be driving incredible distances at ludicrous speeds on miniscule amounts of fuel.  The new one that comes most to my mind derives from MSN Messenger.  My oldest email account is my Hotmail account, from over a year before they sold out.  I consider Messenger's popups, telling me how many new messages I have and when I get a new message, to be incredibly convenient, but I have no use whatsoever for any of its other features.

I especially have no use for one feature in particular: the updater.  Messenger works, does what I need it to, and that makes me happy, but I scream every Friday because the updater reminds me that there's a new version 'available'.  I don't want it.  I know it can only be larger, and packed with more crap I won't use, but I only have three choices.

  • Yes, upgrade now.
  • No, ask me next time I log in.
  • No, ask me again in one week
The quicker of mind will immediately note that there is no "Piss off and leave me alone" option.  So, if I want to use it, I have to put up with pressure to get the newer version that I neither need nor want.  This seems to be the typical tactic nowadays... not running and throwing a big bucket of water that soaks you instantly, but dancing around with a plant mister, invincibly agile, soaking you gradually.  I'm almost ready to give in, even thought I know that fairly soon they'll make some change 'for the better' that will render previous versions unusable, so I'll have to get the 8 Mb version, if I want to stay appraised of my Hotmail account without checking it all the time.

The new parallel, you ask?  Just this.  Stipulating the previous comparison between the Big Three and Big Silicon, the more appropriate one is the matter of planned obsolesence.  Sure, Detroit invented the concept, subtly changing each year's new model to distinguish it from the last, but at least Detroit couldn't instantly render the Buick you've got in the garage an inert hunk of metal, totally unusable.  And even if they could, I don't think Detroit would be crass enough to do it just so they could sell the new model cars, with no brake pedal or windshield, but with extra wipers, an operational extra steering wheel in the back seat, a paisley paint job, and the front axle perpendicular to the ground... in the name of 'enhancing the user experience'.

I'll take that back... they would be crass enough to do so but they couldn't get away with it for a second; Big Silicon itself, however, hails these actions as triumphs, and we dumbly nod along and grin.  Progress is fine and dandy, but there's something to be said for the limits that Detroit labors under.  They'd sell the idiotic car I described above if people would buy it, but aside from the fact that there exists actual competition in the auto market, no car for the general consumer is ever sold without some significant options.  You'd still be able to buy the base model (a fairly normal car), the intermediate (perhaps with just the extra steering wheel, in a more subdued paisley), or the full-on idiot-model.

I like my old Buick, even if it is loaded with options that I never use (who really needs a phone booth sticking out of the trunk?), and I'm not looking forward to the letter from Detroit that says it will be so much scrap metal in a week.

I remember reading somewhere that the simplest machines are the best, even if elegant and efficient design is more difficult, and so the complexity of the engines turned out by automakers today are generally the result of lazy thinking.  Who would use a ten pound, spring-loaded, gear-driven, remote-controlled... paperclip?  Such is the bloated code on which most programs today are based, but we use them because no one can be bothered with making regular paperclips anymore, and the general consumer lacks the wit to even want a little, bent, piece of wire to hold papers together.  Consumers demand the Ultimate Paper-Smasher-Together because it's sexier, even if it doesn't hold papers together as securely as a little, bent, piece of wire.