Let's say you have to buy breakfast cereal. Simple enough, right? So you drive down to the supermarket, go down the cereal aisle, and there on the shelves are 5 different brands. Not too difficult a decision. You mull over the labels of each, and within a few minutes you've made your choice. Easy enough.
Okay then, let's change this breakfast scenario. You drive down to the same supermarket, go down the same aisle, but suddenly you are confronted with not 5, but 500 choices; vaguely reminiscent of the endless warehouse scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Your mind begins to short circuit, unable to make an intelligent choice; unable to process a Library of Congress worth of visual stimuli. You either leave the store, bewildered, empty-handed and hungry; or- unable to make a smart decision, grab whatever your hand hits first. Based on the mathematics of probability, this method will most likely have you tossing said cereal in the garbage after the first serving; having determined that your haphazard choice tastes like sweetened balsa wood, mixed with colored gravel.
So- was the retail manager of the supermarket doing you a favor, by giving you more choices than the Smithsonian has artifacts? In my opinion- no. All he has done is shifted profits from the cereal aisle to the pharmacy dept.- specifically, the pain reliever aisle.
This is an ideal example, to illustrate the Cult of Infinite Complexity. Now let's find a practical example in life to illustrate it: something NOT near and dear to my heart- but a necessary evil- electronics; specifically , computers, and their peripheral devices. (And if anybody can tell me the logic and meaning behind the term "about blank" I'll give you a chocolate cream pie!)
I have a simple little HP printer that I now only use occasionally for black & white letters. It's about 12 years old, and it was time to get a new one, since a circuit that controls color must be corrupted. (Yes, it was full) But it was a joy to use: when I wanted to print a picture or document on my hard drive, I simply went to it, clicked "Print", and a few seconds later out it popped. A kitten could do it. But alas, it was time to replace it. So I went to Wal-Mart- and got the shock of my life when I brought my new Canon printer home. No more printed manuals, of course. That would be too easy. Now everything's online. Which is just as well: my all-in-one machine would probably require a manual the size of "War and Peace"! First, it put 10 icons on my desktop. Each one, if clicked, presented you with more choices than Kink Solomon had wives. Some required additional downloads. You could change the size, the shape, the texture, the color, or the feel of the picture or document in question. Were we talking printing- or the makings of an Armani suit? Each icon presented me with at least 20 more choices, and tips, suggestions, warnings, and instructions on how to accomplish each wondrous task. Clicking any of these lines brought you into even deeper levels of "understanding"- not unlike Dante's Inferno. I was quite certain that somewhere, in the bewildering blur of guides, instructions, and infinite features flashing in front of me, was one claiming my new printer could launch an omelet out of it- if I could just figure out where it wanted me to put the eggs. Well, after sifting for hours through a near infinite number of choices of what this device was capable of accomplishing, I threw up my hands in defeat, plopped a few tablets from my 55-gallon drum of industrial strength Ibuprofen, and fired off a terse letter to Canon, with 1 specific question: how do you print a damn picture!? I suspect my old HP printer on the floor doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at my predicament.
Right about now, some of you are making the disturbing connection between my supermarket analogy- and the Cult of Infinite Complexity. "Oh, now I get it!" you're saying. We've become so clogged with choices, we've become paralyzed! How did it come to this? You've got me. But I fear it's only going to get worse.
You want another example of the Cult of Infinite Complexity? Go back to the 70's; even the 80's. Remember your telephone? Remember how it worked? Allow me to refresh your memory: you picked up the receiver, punched a number, then said "Hello" when Aunt Mary answered. That's it. Those days, that phone, (and Aunt Mary) are gone; replaced by- you guessed it- the Cult of Infinite Complexity. Do you ever recall getting a manual with your phone back then? Of course not. You didn't need one. Fido could have made a call. Today, Fido would have to go to doggie technical school. And don't forget your phone manual! Yeah, the phone too, now. Move over "War and Peace." Alexander Graham Bell must be spinning in his grave. I don't think this is what he meant when he called out "Come here Watson! I need you!" There's that omelet-making thing again. Hasn't anyone ever wondered why, out of al the cell phone commercials
blaring from our TV's, the one thing that none of them ever seem to mention, oddly enough, out of the dizzying number of features & functions they CAN do- is how to make a phone call? Eggs over easy, please.
Speaking of TV's, time was you plugged it in, turned it on, then flipped the dial (or remote) to the channel you wanted, and enjoyed your program. Period. A manual? Why? No more. Today, said manual is actually cousin to the technical instructions on a B-52's instrument panel, from the Strategic Air Command! You've got your work cut out for you! I think the new ones have a button to give you a manicure, too. And I did so want an omelet.
My point is that the path towards Infinite Complexity is fast approaching asymptotic status; i.e., the graph goes vertical towards- well- infinite complexity!
I know what you're thinking. You're probably laughing at the old fuddy-duddy , still stuck in 1978. Really? Wait until your grandchildren are laughing at YOU. I shudder to think what heights- or depths- the human/machine interface will evolve into by THEN. Unless, of course, there will BE no distinction! Very scary. Images of Skynet and "The Terminator" keep flashing through my mind.
But for now, I fear I'll need an engineering degree tailored specifically to fuddy-duddys stuck in 1978. How difficult can it be? So if you'll excuse me, I have to enroll in M.I.T. It says all I have to do is print out the application. It's easy!