Infrastructure is for People


‘Infrastructure is for people’ is the premise that I work from, and this post is my attempt to explain why. By continuing to read, you are participating in the process of my figuring out how to communicate this. Continue at your own peril.

I think this is one of those ideas we so much don’t believe in that it’s difficult to talk about. We don’t have language for it. That’s partially why it’s so important to talk about.

An Example (Sorta)

I’ve continually had trouble keeping track of what the balance in my bank account is. I’ve tried all sorts of approaches, and I’m still searching for a great solution[1]. It’s been years of trying, now, and still I’m regularly at a loss as to how I overspent this time.

That’s because humans are only good at certain things. We lose sight of this because the myth of our time is that we’re rational beings. Mentally keeping track of the state of transactions, past a certain number[2], is not the sort of thing humans are good at.

The Point

  1. Infrastructure can make it hard to live well.

  2. We can rebuild infrastructure.

  3. If we can improve the world, we ought to.

There appears to be a dearth of deeply socially conscious, technically minded people (I suspect I might be wrong on this point, and hope I am). The people who are most socially conscious seem to be less technically minded, and vice versa. Perhaps this is just a result of the way some predisposing traits tend to be distributed. In any case, it leads to some nasty outcomes.

The Impact

It’s a bit like something Einstein said, that’s unfortunately a bit of a cliché:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”[3][4]

Without the socially conscious element, we all end up leading miserable lives because we’re not caring for each other. On the other hand, without the technical approach, we often can’t actually find the underlying problem, much less fix it.

This is why I care about infrastructure. Not because solving technical problems is fun (though it is), but because I feel a duty to contribute to the betterment of the world I’m part of. This is why I think you should care about infrastructure, whether you are of a more technical or socially minded persuasion to start with.

  1. Simple is the best thing I’ve found yet. Check them out if you need a good bank.  ↩

  2. That’s a pretty small number, by the way. Check out the wikipedia article.  ↩

  3. Here’s a free version of the essay this apparently originates from.  ↩

  4. While I’m at it, here’s another, longer quote in the same vein, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

    “We have artists with no scientific knowledge and scientists with no artistic knowledge and both with no spiritual sense of gravity at all, and the result is not just bad, it is ghastly.”  ↩