Nothing is Simple

I have meetings until 4pm today, and then I’m out of here. I have no reservations on the train, so will most likely be standing up for the first three hours of the journey. Go me. Before I even get there though, I have to sit in a conference room and try to dissuade a client from being too clever about the thing they want us to build them. I like simple things – I have to convince them that simple things are good too.

I remember back in college we were learning about sorting techniques – the way computers take bunch of things and sort them into an order. The most simple method of the lot is called a “Bubble Sort” – where you compare each thing against each other thing, and swap them if one is bigger than the other (or whatever comparison you are making). Everybody can understand it. It’s simple. Computers are fast. We all win.

Here’s the thing – there are many ways to sort things, and Bubble Sorting is the least efficient. There are some insanely clever ways of sorting things, but even trying to describe how they work would take a couple of pages of text with diagrams. They are greasy fast, but nobody really understands them without sitting down and thinking about them for a while. And that’s why I like simple things – because I like to know that I might come back in six months time, and I’ll understand what the hell I did.

In a strange sort of way, the social internet works on the same principles. People love to put each other in boxes – the quiet people, the loud people, the trustworthy people, the idiotic people, the good listeners, the troublemakers, those with empathy, those we know we shouldn’t like but we do, and so on. People are not simple though. One day we can get out of bed and fit into one box, and yet the next day we can get out of bed and fit into all the damn boxes at once.

We love to think of the black hole inside our browsers or smart-phones as simple. Maybe we compartmentalise people and the things they post in order to make it easier for us to shut the lid on it all and walk away. I don’t know.

One day when I took our eldest daughter to London, we were standing on an Underground train platform, and there was a sea of people facing us on the opposite platform. I quietly said to her:

“Just imagine – each of those people has a whole family, wherever they come from – mothers, fathers, children, grandparents… they all have happy thoughts, things they are worried about, people they care for, people they don’t like”.

She thought about it for a few moments, and replied.

“I never thought about that before”.

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