Monday, November 12, 2012

The evolving complexity dysfunction

What is a Global Positioning System? Precision in timing, leading to accuracy in position, leading to display of location information, matching reality.

What is a map. A simplified scaled down representation of geographical reality. What if we scale it back up again? What have we gained? What have we lost? We have re-gained complexity, we have lost simplicity. We will have re-gained detail, and lost an easier to recognize lay of the land. The solution to this is found in a scalable map of lesser of greater detail on your GPS. But this evolving complexity dysfunction bleeds over into other tools we use. Take paper maps for instance. You may make the map of simple detail, or heavier detail, but they cannot be scalable, their nature being paper. The more detail they have, the less functional they are for the average citizen. Paper maps are loosing the evolutionary race to electronics. But electronics are more complex to use and maintain. Seniors are befuddled, the young enthralled. Heads-up displays are taking us closer to the complexity of reality by adding layers of information on top of reality. Is this truly helpful? Yes, to a point and for some purposes, but when does the tool overwhelm; when does the information become dysfunctional? Texting while driving is the first clue we have. Death by texting is a very real - reality. Overwhelming information can kill. We are reaching our limits to deal with it, in some areas. Perhaps a simple map of less detail works better in some cases than that which we have recently wrought.

I think in the area of evolving complexity dysfunction we will find other areas that fit into this scenario sooner rather than later. One that strikes me is the fragility of the general infrastructure. That, to me, is the greatest threat to civilization as we know it. We rely on it too much, necessarily so. There are things that can take it out, and we are not prepared. A perfect solar super-storm. An atmospheric nuclear blast. God knows what else. If any major part of our infrastructure is taken out for any length of time, recovery may not be possible. Forget the gun. I suggest you buy a case or two of pork and beans, a portable water filter, and a paper map.

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