Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Retrofitting Us And Our World


Previously, when we invented something we often had a blank canvas to work with, or at the most a simple foundation to build on that didn't interfere with what came next.  Examples would be train tracks that just ran across open countryside, or roads that were paved over existing dirt pathways.  Other examples would be sewer pipes that are laid in clear soil as we're about to build on a new piece of land, or the overhead wires that carry our electricity.

The problems start with what comes next.  The next set of pipes have to be higher or lower than the existing ones.  New wires can't touch the old ones.  Roads require traffic lights, or overpasses/tunnels if they're busy ones.  The list goes on.

As time goes by, all these things where out.  Now, instead of just being careful where you add stuff, you've got the monumental headache of retrofitting.  Buildings have to be torn down and new taller buildings go up without touching the buildings around them, for instance.  New tunnels are built and connected to existing stations.  Overhead wires have to be re-routed underground, and so forth.

So far, I've only mentioned physical things.  What happens to your thoughts and views?  Do you just raze them to the ground and install new ones, or do you keep bits of the old and add to them?  What happens if one new way of thinking invalidates another?  Do you keep patching the old idea to make it comply with the new one, or does it get eradicated totally?

If you look at the major shifts going on around us, you'll see that generationally, the older people add/patch and the younger kids are just razing to the ground everything that came before as they see it as irrelevant.  We're starting to do this in IT a lot too.  You're apps will work on a certain version of Windows or OS X, or IOS, or Android and then one day (after numerous upgrades) you finally reach that point where old stuff just isn't compatible.  Despite all the grumbling, you'll notice that humanity hasn't ground to a halt yet.

We see this in advertising too.  Digital media replaced traditional media, which was like the laying of the railway tracks.  Now, people are adding to the digital media in ways that complement the existing systems whilst not breaking existing components, instead of tearing it down and moving to much better systems.

We see it in Industry too.  Old manufacturing practices and processes are now deemed unsustainable.  Now everything needs to be green and ethical.  Also, Government needs to change.  What use is a government system that's only open 9 to 5 mondays to Fridays, in a world that's 24/7?  And that line from them about email being not trustworthy is just plain hogwash - it's only unsafe if you let it be unsafe and don't encrypt to a reasonable standard (and they won't do that because nobody in Government likes correspondence that they can't snoop on).

If you were to look at where the next 10 to 15 years is largely going to be spent, it's in retrofitting old ideas and infrastructure.  Once we've done that, we can start moving forward again.