Information wants to be free :-) so yup, use any ideas you like. None of them is original to me, I merely synthesise. I draw on the work of (among others) Ivan Illich, Joseph Tainter, Alf Hornborg, Jared Diamond, Vandana Shiva… many people have written and thought deeply about scale and complexity, and the benefits of efficiency vs the cost of fragility. I think Nassim Taleb has some things to say on this also — he wrote some stuff about “antifragility” that was interesting… though he has some other opinions I find rather abrasive and old-fashioned so he’s not my favourite author. If you google “resilience and diversity” (in ecosystems) you may find useful material (similes, parallels, thought experiments). When you think about it, a climax ecosystem is “inefficient” (why bother having so many niches, so many species, so much variation? surely you only need one predator, one prey species, one plant species, etc). And yet it’s maximally “efficient” in terms of converting sunlight into biomass, and simplifying any ecosystem almost always impoverishes it (in terms of total productivity). This seems to me a lesson to bear in mind when looking at the tendency of unregulated marketplaces to produce monopolies :-)

Another topic worth pursuing is complexity itself. It’s been suggested (and I’m starting to believe it!) that human ability to manage complexity has a pretty hard limit, so that any human system that becomes sufficiently large and complex becomes impossible to manage competently, or to manage at all. It’s been suggested that the boards and execs of huge corporations are just kidding themselves when they think that they are “steering” the company; in point of fact, it’s a complex system, emergent and unpredictable, and they may have far less control than they imagine. This has implications for software projects of a certain hugeness :-) especially since they carry legacy code, and institutional memory is interrupted by retirements, firings, and hirings.

Failure to transfer information correctly across a change of personnel is one of the foremost reasons for institutional error… whether that be shifts in a hospital, generations of coders on a long project, or a new Board of Directors taking over from one with long service. Documentation standards attempt to address this risk, but… again the scale factor is an issue: how much doco do you have to write to truly explain the implications of one subroutine in a very complex system? A lot of that meaning and context is carried in working human memory, despite doco standards and good intentions. If it’s not passed on by mentoring or apprenticeship, it’s at risk of loss.

Information suffers from entropy, in other words... But I digress. Have fun with the memes. The topic is long overdue.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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