Simplicity Follows Complexity

The design of a thing tends to evolve over time to be better, and often simpler.

During the punch card era, I noticed the evolution of card readers. In the beginning they rivaled Rube Goldberg machines. See:, This IBM 701 card reader looks simpler than some I used. They were the size of a desk and contained hundreds of moving parts. Eventually they evolved into simpler devices. See: Some of the simpler ones would sit on top of a desk and contained only a few moving parts.

The progression of a design from complexity to simplicity is a recurring pattern.

Contrast that to what has happened to cars, refrigerators, phones, ....

"Contrast"? Cars, fridges and phones are much simpler to operate that they ever were.

"The design of a thing tends to evolve over time to be better, and often simpler." [emphasis added] Now, can you honestly say that the design of those items is simpler now than it was in the past?

If you start with a card reader and add a coffee maker to it, the product has increased in complexity, and the design changes too. But, the original card reader may be simplified at the same time the coffee maker is added. Sure, our refrigerators, phones and cars are becoming more complex, but not because their designs are growing in complexity, their function and features are growing complex.

An interesting twist to this is in the world of capitalism, where often the normal progression of simplification and betterment is purposefully thwarted in the name of profits and product life. Often in this world, the design is continually made unnecessarily complicated, and instead of perfecting, it is de-perfected to fail in X amount of time. All in the name of profits, competition for said profits, and hiding "TradeSecrets?" from competitors.

What you say does occur, but AT&T is no more, because long distance became too inexpensive to support the company. One of the baby bells (SBC) bought them, and changed the name of the baby bell to at&t (lower case, to differentiate it from the former parent - SBC at that time was a company composed of several of the former baby bells, the resultant of many mergers over a multi-year acquisition period).

What you say is not universal, and the opposite becomes true - I have a vehicle still in very good operating order that is eleven years old, has over 220,000 miles on it, operates on tires having a lifetime of 60 to 80 thousand miles, and has a maintenance cost during the eleven year period of about 1 thousand dollars a year (tires, lubrication, and necessary mechanical maintenance). Compare that with a car years ago which used tires which would get 20, maybe 30 thousand miles, and the car, whose lifetime could be expected to be 3 to 6 years, and perhaps 100 to 125 thousand miles. Maintenance costs could be expected to be about as much as the original cost of the vehicle. Almost anything electrical or electronic would cost 3 to 10 times as much as today in inflation adjusted dollars, and with performance characteristics under that of today's products. Availability and deliverability have improved, not only for original equipment, but for parts as well. Communication has improved to the point where advertisers to cover part of the costs of operation such that some services and be offered at nearly zero costs. Sale and recycling of items is now a global possibility and nearly any useful (and many useless but collectable) items can be located, purchased and shipped in a very short period of time. The trend today is toward "openness" in technology, with competitors utilizing it freely and at nearly equal costs. While the infrastructure and its creation may have become very complex, the result to users is in general quite simple.

My statement, "The design of a thing tends to evolve over time to be better, and often simpler," does not claim that all complex designs become simpler; rather, that it is a tendency and does recur. Even corporations looking for a lower product price want designs to be simpler. However, societies and other groups do not always make cost cutting decisions. For example, Socrates was forced to commit suicide for political crimes, and Galileo was imprisoned for heresy. People do not always consider simple as being good; Rube Goldberg made a career from beauty of complexity.

What does "advertisers to cover part of the costs of operation such that some services and be offered" mean? Can you give an example?

One of the reasons anything complex becomes simpler, as time moves on, is that tools, mechanisms and processes are developed which make stuff less complicated, and in the case of some programming tools, are reduced to issuing short commands in a cli or programming language, or the clicking of a mouse in a gui on a target (icon, button, link, or other visually identifiable artifact). NewTimers may not know or be able to recall how a user programmed an AltairMicrocomputer by toggling switches, and that early Mainframe users programmed or did i/o via punched tapes or cards, but any Oldtimer who has done so, can readily understand how computers have grown in complexity and in functionality, and that they are much simpler to use.

In 1969, when I toggled switches to enter a boot sequence, to read one card on the Remote Job Entry (RJE), computers were much simpler. But, we didn't know about structured programming and code was spaghetti, and we designed it that way on purpose to save a few bytes of memory. The RJE only had 8k bytes main memory, a card reader, a printer, and a typewriter console... no disk. It lost its mind on power off. The additional resources, including graphical user console, take more complex programs than that old RJE. However, my code is no longer spaghetti, which makes it simpler. A modern operating system is way too much for the RJE, A modern PC has much more form and function than the old RJE and computers of its time.

See: TimeToMakeItShort, EinsteinPrinciple

Confer: CreepingFeaturitis

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