i used to co-manage a software company. My co-founder is Lebanese, so we built a team in Beirut with an office right on the Levantine Sea. Great software engineers there, excellent front-end talent. But Lebanon has been passing by. And not just in the normal “caught between factions in an eternal global crisis zone” way. First the financial system collapsed (no problemsaid the team), then the pandemic hit hard (we’re fine), then Beirut was partially destroyed in a port explosion (a terrible day, but we will get through it). Then we learned that people were powering their homes with DIY solar or diesel generators (don’t mention it) and get Internet through mobile hotspots (almost always works well). We rented spare apartments for people who had trouble returning home (no need, but thanks) and figured out how to pay people when the banks were melting (appreciate it). On January 6, 2021, they trashed the American team: “Your hitting is ridiculous.”
All of this gave me a great appreciation for how boring America was. America was so boring for so long that other countries kept their wealth in dollars and oil oligarchs hoarded empty apartments in Manhattan. America was so boring that, for decades, the tech industry was able to do interruption his mantra Young people would find something new enabled by technology; VCs would infuse it with cash, building a marketplace for new buyers and sellers; and established players hilariously tripping over themselves trying to compete. They would fail, and we would laugh. Need more progress? You just do more technology. Smartphones, drones, teledildonics, IoT, you name it, we’re flying the world again.
This kind of progress definitely generates a lot of activity. But it’s also strange when you consider how many lives there are in the world, historically and today, including American lives. extremely interrupted: by toxic spills or whims of royalty or goats all swelling and dying. Disruption is an ethos for the bored, for people who live in reasonable climates and don’t have street tanks. But America has become a lot less boring recently.
I’m thinking of the photo of the guy with the horns in the Senate chamber. Technologists are on the hook for this. Because the internet begat the web, which begat social, which begat Trump, which begat all that and the Supreme Court, which did not beget Roe, and all I’m saying is that technology can’t be responsible for just one kind of progress and wash its robot hands of the other. Borders are not evaporating into the cloud; they are getting thicker. Distances are becoming more and more expensive to travel. The grills are wobbly. For several weeks this year it was difficult to buy pretzels. You can’t just say “software is eating the world” and relax. Software already ate the world, digested it and pooped out a new world, and this is where we live.
I got angry once a client because I promised during a meeting to build them a “big, boring software platform.” They took me to a fancy bar to shout at me. “We didn’t pay you to be boring!” they said “We paid you to be exciting!” I had to explain how, in technology, “boring” can be an asset, a way to build for growth, how things that seem exciting, like New York City, are built on boring things, like sewage or investment banking. An endless consumer economy might be fun in the moment, but have you ever seen the movie theater floor when the lights come up? (Of course, I paid for the customer’s drinks.)
Stability is a tough sell, I’ll grant you that; the reward is far away. No hominid ever thought, “If I stick this stick in a termite mound, 50,000 generations from now my offspring will be paying for five streaming services, including Peacock.” They thought, “I’m tired of chasing these termites all over the place when there’s a real source of termites.” And suddenly, at that moment, they were eating the world. Humans are here to have a good time, not a long time.
Fast forward 50,000 generations of monkeys. Of course now is the time to learn to fetishize stability. As I write, the tarmac in London is hot enough to reheat fish and chips. The solutions to the crisis (crisis) are agonizingly long-term and require hundreds of trillions of dollars, with billions of people doing their part. What’s a monkey to do with a stick?
So I’m over progress and done with disruption. Stability is my new best friend. Not the big stuff, the UN level stuff. Leave it to the smart macro-thinkers with European accents and cool clothes for all the weather, or the sad Americans with Substacks. What I will be working on, for the rest of my career in the tech industry, god willing (okay, I’m an atheist and easily distracted, so reader be warned), is making nice little tutorials and tools – better sticks . for friendlier monkeys. Now I’m working on my first tutorial, on how to parse NetCDF files full of climate data using the Python programming language to save the data to a SQL database and integrate it into a traditional web workflow. This is my DevOps! Who knows, maybe one day someone will open a school for stability. Everyone will want to run it, and no one will want to mop the floors.
This article appears in the September 2022 issue. Subscribe now.