Monday, April 12, 2010

Build It Better: My Newest Thread of Insane Ramblings

I've always been somewhat of a systemic malcontent, I've never met a way of doing things that I couldn't find some way to improve. It used to be that these were little gripes about the minutia of how this aspect or that aspect could be marginally improved, but over the past few years I've become a little bit more radical. Now by radical, I don't mean I want to go destroying things. I mean radical in the sense that I'm sick of systems which are blatantly behind the times, even dangerously so. These are systems which had serious problems in the beginning and which haven't really evolved into something better as time has progressed. Some have even evolved into things which are actually worse. Now it's important here to define what I mean when I say good, because it is slanted heavily:

Sustainable: A system must be designed and built in such a fashion that it may exist and perform without causing environmental damage. When possible, a system should actually contribute to overall environmental health as a byproduct of its existance/operation. Additionally, materials used in the construction/operation of said system should be "Cradle to Cradle" materials. It doesn't take much introspection to see that the way we're doing things now is woefully destructive to the environment and by direct extension to us. We need to be building systems which are part of the solution, not the problem.

Empowering: When possible/applicable a system should empower those who use it to become better individuals. We aren't used to thinking about systems this way but its about damn time. By not thinking about it, we've created an entire world full of systems which isolate, belittle, frustrate, and generally do nothing more than the bare "utility" we've proscribed to them. By building systems which encourage those who use them to become happier, healthier, and more aware of the world, the more favors we will be doing ourselves in the long run. No one product or system will ever grant us sainthood, but at the very least we can start building systems which aren't fighting us. I'm reading a book on this very topic right now called Sustainability By Design. It's a chewy read as the author takes you through a very thorough case for his ideas, but definitely worth a read if you like this kind of stuff.

Practical/Pragmatic: Sometimes I see proposals for systems floating around on the Net and I just have to laugh. The ideas are inventive and the intentions are admirable, but the systems as described just couldn't be made to exist without seriously changing the way the population at large is used to using technology. A system must be practical to build, practical to operate, require only minimal adjustment by those who use it, and must be useful and effective from day one.

Incremental Deployment: Any system which cannot be built/deployed in a incremental fashion is doomed to forever remain a drawing on a designers' desk. New systems, like internet memes, need to start small and spread virally based on their success. This is one of the reasons its taken the US so damned long to get high speed rail; nobody wants to pay for a half-built network of rail lines.

Low Upkeep Costs: Systems by their nature do require investment over time to keep them effective and up to date, however a system which gobbles money continuously is a bad system at best.

Flexibility: A system must be able to adapt/be adapted to fit a wide range of operating conditions and do so with minimal additional cost.

There's a whole constellation of other assorted factors that I feel are crucial to a good system, and I'm sure I will remember all of them precisely two minutes after I post this entry. It is worth noting that what I call "systems" includes a wide variety of things including but not limited to products, infrastructure, and services.

So with all of this in mind, I am starting a series of posts which I'm entitling Build It Better. In these, I will be singling bad systems out, holding them down, and mercilessly beat them to a bloody pulp. I will then proceed to suggest my own brands of systemic villany, because I'm an egotistical tool who likes hearing himself talk (at least I'm honest about it). Feel free to follow along as I decend further into my caffiene induced hallucinations of a world filled with systems which don't suck.

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