The implementation of websites is ultimately done by programmers. These programmers often have an important say in the technology that is used to create a website. It is only normal that the programmers’ values and preferences are reflected in these choices.
This effect is reinforced because the programming community largely owns its own means of production.
The author goes on to expound that, due to the strong ethos of plain-text-as-an-interface ingrained in the software community, classes of problems—like WYSIWYG authoring tools—are scorned or overlooked by the software developers who have the means to solve them.
Meanwhile, technologically-minded problem solvers have moved onto solving the laundry problem.
Time, talent, and money are heaped onto efforts applying technology solutions to increasingly esoteric first-world problems while basic technology problems go unanswered.
- WYSIWYG content management systems are crude, frustrating tools for content creators to use.
- The online password, identity, and authentication problem is a nightmare for regular users.
- “Online” payments still take days to affect your bank account.
- DDOS attacks—extremely crude ways of crippling servers—are all too common (and effective).
- Web browser accessibility tools—assistive screen reader technology designed to allow disabled users to enjoy the benefits of the web—are barely-usable inadequate tools.1
- The list goes on…
These are all fundamental technology problems that are worth addressing. But the solution to these problems either isn’t evident or immediate, but sometimes involves massive real-world re-education or policy changes.
A slam dunk WYSIWYG editor doesn’t garner the same level of attention, praise, and venture funding that a technology-based service promising to “disrupt” a technology-less industry like clothes laundering receives—even if the actual benefit of “solving” this first world laundry problem is rather suspect.
And speaking of first world problems, the problems facing the barely-computer-literate population—a majority of the world population—are not served, and are continually swept under the rug, by the fast-moving technology industry.
The reason that “hacker schools”—short term, non-university-based computer programming academies—continue to grow in popularity is because the gatekeepers are abusing their power. “Software is eating the world.” It’s a lucrative industry because the popular thought is that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by software. Programming languages continue to become more accessible to learn and there’s any number of free learning materials online. Yet software is still plagued by many fundamental problems. And the current generation of software tools aren’t always enabling and empowering technology users in lasting, meaningful ways.
Just as it has introduced efficiencies that have improved the lives of so many people, software and its current generation of software makers has introduced as many problems. Leaving large, unsolved problems—and inadequately-served people—in its wake, the industry moves onto addressing problems for an increasingly affluent class of people.
I start to conflate the two obstacles of 1) leaving unsatisfactory software-based solutions and 2) ignoring the needs of the marginalized as software moves into solving ever more trivial and superfluous classes of real-world problems. But as I read through the ubiquitious Capital in the 21st Century, this is where my questions travel as I think about where this fast-moving industry is headed.
In the search to solve ever more high-level not-problem problems, what lower-level, fundamental problems do we overlook or leave with dissatisfying solutions?
Will the saturation of software into all aspects of life solve real problems or just create a different class of new problems?
What do we lose—and who are we overlooking—in the race to software-ize all the things?
As more traditional industries are “disrupted” by tech, can the industry embrace as many people as it alienates?
How can software—and more specifically the craft of computer programming—reach and empower people outside of the affluent, Western, English-speaking world?
Outside of Apple’s Voiceover technology, which is good, but still has a ways to go.↩