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Less is Moore.

I don’t use instant-messaging software as a rule, and one reason I don’t is that it only exacerbates this “interruptive” condition of online life. Email itself is distracting enough that I’ve had to take serious measures to control its impact (filters, schedules, spam guards, and more). Yet I can’t rule it out entirely. As with many people, email is the way I work. It’s the primary way I communicate with the people I work with and those I’m interviewing. It’s one of the major channels through which I learn about new ideas and technologies. I can’t just turn it off any more than I can quit my job and go spend the winter meditating in a mountain retreat.

Then there was Nash’s office: During the height of his illness, he had plastered the walls with hundreds of pages torn from various magazines, highlighting random words and letters here and there, drawing lines from one thing to another. The whole space was a vast, tangled map of mental connections, embodied in paper and ink and string. Holy crap, I thought: That’s a weblog in physical form!

Times sure change. In the 1950s, making such obsessive connections between scraps of publicly available media was a sure sign of insanity. Now it’s practically a requirement. The experts agree: Maintaining a weblog is a good way to promote yourself and your business.

Naturally, these experts are all famous webloggers. As for how the rest of the hoi polloi are justifying the hours they spend on their digital diaries when only a handful of people will ever read them — well, the results are still out on that one.

(Actually, Chris Gulker has analyzed the most popular weblogs and has found that being famous already will help your blog be popular, but having a blog won’t necessarily help you become famous. So much for the self promotional values of weblogging.)

Indeed, as technology becomes more pervasive, there’s an unfortunate down side. Unless you learn to master the technology around you, it can easily take over your daily life — without you being particularly aware that this is happening. Email is distracting. The infinite interconnectedness of the Web means there’s always something more to learn — you’re never quite finished with anything because there’s always one more link to investigate, one more fact to incorporate.

And, as InfoWorld columnist Ephraim Schwartz wrote last month, mobile technology isn’t exactly helping, either. Rather, those Web-enabled mobile phones and Blackberries let us to keep working far beyond the hours and places where work used to be confined.

Think back to what your world was like before you got Web access and Internet email. For me, it’s hard even to imagine what things were like — that’s how much I’ve come to rely on these technologies, how much they’ve transformed our world. By and large, this is a good thing. But I think there’s a growing gap between personal technologies and our ability to manage them effectively.

My column for Business 2.0 this week discusses the obsolescence of Moore’s Law, and points out that processing power isn’t really a driving concern in the technology world nowadays (outside of the board rooms of Intel and AMD).

Instead, the big problems facing IT departments — and, increasingly, ordinary individuals — have to do with information management. How do you store, maintain, organize, and make accessible large amounts of data?

I think we’re fast approaching the point where our tools’ ability to bring us information exceeds our ability to manage and make use of that information. At this point, what we need is less information, not more: We need filters, categories, classifications. Editors. Friends. Good work habits and business processes. All of these things we need in order to take control of the information that surrounds us — and to take control of our online lives.

In other words, we need to control technology before it controls us.

As I note in the piece itself, this week’s column is the last one I’ll write for Business 2.0. I’ve spent more than two years as that magazine’s “Defogger” columnist, penning over 80 articles in that time. Now it’s time for me to devote more attention to other projects. This newsletter’s sporadic dispatches will continue, of course. And I’ll say more about what I’m working on early next year, right here.

1 Comment

  1. Dylan Tweney

    I’ve received a lot of email on my “Moore’s Law” piece for Business 2.0, referenced in this article (https://dylan.tweney.com/writing.php?display=331). Here are some excerpts from my mailbag:

    I’ve always believed that software engineering has lagged behind hardware engineering in terms of productivity. Maybe it’s a cultural thing we have to work out. We’ve been working with physical things for thousands of years. We’ve only been working with software for . . . what? . . . 30-50 years. –Fritz Zuhl

    1. People have the option of continuing to run DOS or Windows 3.1 or whatever they used to run — they upgrade in order to take advantage of new features. They can keep the same software when upgrading to new hardware and maintain exactly the same features, while increasing speed.
    2. Your argument that software becoming fatter and less efficient negating improvements in processing performance is kind of like arguing that improvements in standard of living are an illusion, because as things get cheaper and cheaper relative to wages, people buy more and more luxurious things (bigger houses, fancier cars), therefore there isn’t any net increase in wealth. This seems to me to be a ridiculous proposition. –Eric Taneda

    Nice article. I especially like how you comment on the hot areas of the market being storage and information management solutions. However, I’ve always felt that as of recently it’s not public or corporate (microsoft) demand that coaxes Intel to uprade processing speed, but that Intel creates the demand by offering faster processors and gets technology addicts like myself to buy into the need for more processing speed, even though there is not real need for it. It almost reminds me of when the U.S and Russia were racing to see who would land on the moon first. If Intel doesn’t display a fast processor, they know they’ll lose some marketshare to AMD who will. –followdaleeda

    You mention that people dont get more done on a P4 WinXp machine than on a P2 Win95. I must contest this as it is simply not true. I work as a graphics designer and software engineer and I certainly get more done. I get more done becuase my customers needs remain the same or very similiar, and now I am much better equipped to handle more jobs better. For you, on the otherhand, this might be true as all you probably do on your computer is type your articles and check the occasional e-mail. For this, of course you won’t get more done, as there is probably no way left to enhance word processing. So please keep in mind what you are writing when you make ill-informed statements. –pharzo

    I grant you that there is certainly a point where CPU speed and hard drive capacity and memory bandwidth no longer significantly contribute to word-processing or spread-sheet creation, but in point of fact in today’s world of high-tech consumer products such as digital camcorders and graphics programs, or MP3’s and WMA files, the need for faster CPUs is, in fact, driven by the consumers. We need bigger-better-faster-stronger systems to enable us to do video editing of home movies, copying of CD’s, creation of impressive graphics or training presentations, and plain ol’ simple multi-tasking (more than one app’ running at the same time) possible.

    Perhaps in some X-Files conspiracy, the OS designers are in league with the creators of all these high-tech digital gadgets, so that by creating demand for one, you ensure a demand for the other…but I kinda doubt it. They both coexist out of happy circumstance, one which neither, I’m sure, is eager to disrupt. –rhawkins

    Moore’s law talks about transistors, not “computing power”. Here’s the Intel page: http://www.intel.com/research/silicon/mooreslaw.htm –rms

    Doubling is NOT exponetial growth! You shot your article (about Moore’s Law) down in the FIRST paragraph. Destruction of your credibility so soon means that the rest of the article is probably worthless as far as your opinion of technical issues goes. –reader at carolina.rr.com

    Ref. you Dec 13 article on Moore’s law. 2^(10/3)= 10.7 not 9. Agree in general however, Moore’s law is optimistic. Your points on economic costs being a bigger hinderance than technology is right on in my opinion. –paul goedicke

    Intel Fab 24 is in Leixlip Ireland in County Kildare. No big deal, but we have some folks working there and I thought I’d point it out. Leixlip is where Guinness was first brewed before moving to Dublin. –yarnm

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