Reading / 

15 Dec 2021

Vacation Reading: "Computers Are Bad"

I’m on vacation right now, the first real “do nothing” trip I’ve taken since the pandemic started. Happily, this has meant that I’ve gotten to spend some time catching up on reading, including checking out various new newsletters and blogs, both of which it seems are having a bit of a renaissance right now.

A particularly enjoyable read has been J.B. Crawford’s “Computers Are Bad” newsletter, which covers a variety of topics that happen to overlap with my interests, particularly around computing and telecommunications history.

At this point I’ve binge-read most of the back issues, but his post (or, being a newsletter, is it an ‘issue’?) focused on instant messaging struck a chord.

It’s pretty difficult, as someone who has used various messaging products and services since they became popular during the late dialup era, not to look at the current messaging space and say “wow, this sucks”. We have a slew of mutually-incompatible products, all reinventing the same wheel over and over again. The pace of actual progress, in the sense of new features and capabilities brought to the user, is absolutely glacial.

(And don’t get me started on data ownership. That’s a topic for a different day.)

Crawford is right that the problem isn’t really technological. It’s social, and in particular economic: federated, interoperable services are rarely profitable to operate. All else about the current situation flows down from there.