Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Down the Software Drain


This blog contains over fifteen posts on programming (so far). They offer a variety of explanations as to why software has declined in recent years. However, this post is less about the fading quality of software than examining its consequences.

First, consider a computer’s three main components: hardware, software, and peopleware. Assuming users are trained and proficient in both hardware and software, we will always have human failings. Once ordinary, these have now become digital.

For every program that’s strictly business, there are thousands whose sole purpose is distraction. Add thousands more that can be either time-savers or time-wasters. Now we have mountains of frantic over-activity yielding mouse-sized useable output.

Connect this person to others on a network and unless strongly roadblocked, apps like email, texting, and their many annoying relatives will drive even a dedicated monk to distraction.

Despite these expanding diversions, people are convinced they can juggle it all and still do the job. The personal delusion of multitasking goes against decades of scientific evidence. And if people can do it all, why do they always say, “I didn’t see that car.”

Software has developed over decades, and we should have improved quality, effectiveness, and reliability. Intentional selection should enhance the breed better and faster than blind natural selection. Yet it hasn’t for at least a dozen years.

Although software did advance in the early decades of computing, that progress is slowly eroding. In many (but not all) areas, software quality is not only becoming less efficient but less effective. But that’s not the worst of it.

Maintenance is essential to keep our software abreast of endless upgrades in hardware and software. Things change so quickly, we are overwhelmed by shortfalls in maintenance; we fail to see it’s totally inadequate. Replacements do not inspire confidence.

I said this post was about consequences. Having listed the causes, enumeration seems superfluous: lost time, wasted effort, missed communications, and lost or corrupted data. Ordinary business transactions are no longer easy, simple, or seamless.

Slipshod software goes hand in hand with careless and undisciplined humans. We can do better. We have done better. How much is lack of education; how much failure of management? Do we not care? Or do we simply lack the will?

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