Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pain points

They say that when you're an entrepreneur, you look for a pain point and do something to reduce the pain. That gives you a narrative, a reason for being, The Story for why people should care. So I ask myself what are my pain points?

Based on my previous post, that might be obvious. I'm not giving up all forms of social networking, but I'm also not going to keep dumping effort into fighting a battle I cannot win. I'm an INTJ; my strength is in systemic thinking, and I gravitate toward understanding the nature of things -- these are not characteristics of business networkers driven by hope of monetary gain. My pain point here is that I see a huge amount of effort put into manipulating people, and very little into the advancement of the human condition.

Now, I'm not writing that there isn't pure research going on in the academic world, or that entrepreneurs aught to be doing research or aught not to be seeking profit. Really, a lot of what is out there on the 'net is just entertainment which does nothing to establish the conditions necessary for sustained healthy growth, lowering of real costs of energy, or any deepening of knowledge. One good thing I see is that some knowledge -- with a lot of noise -- is more broadly disseminated due to the Web.

That general pattern, Web as Cross-Polinator, has been with us from before the inception of the Web, by way of the DARPA internet. It would be an overstatement to claim it is THE fundamental pattern of Web solutions from which all others derive, but not by much. So perhaps my "pain point" can be restated in a way that fits with this pattern. We are destroying our very futures by putting effort and money into lifestyles that don't lead to lasting benefit for future generations. People playing on Second Life, Facebook Games, and other superficial social networking; building software as services to solve trivial tactical issues while entangling companies in intractably expensive integration scenarios; and individuals pissing away their personal assets on consumer goods that raise more problems than they solve. There is always an aspect of utility to each of these areas, just as NASA's long history of failures inevitably spawns important data (by design) and interesting technologies (by side-effect). But the ratios of cost:benefit and of pleasurable-short-term-benefit:intangible-lasting-benefit are completely lopsided.

We also allow "long term" to be misanthropically applied by power-hungry radicals with anachronistic political agendas. I've been guilty of using that speech pattern myself in software. I initially adopted that language from studying the make-believe Quality programs of the '90s, which were based on cold-war politics and Big Methodology mentality. Long term or systemic thinking neither implies nor requires greater centralization. And proper evaluation of the relative worth of a technology or practice is made all that much more difficult when a few institutions dominate many people. Better to spread the value judgments around and use randomness to cancel out the effects of corruption and poor integrity, than to concentrate them in one place with strong personal and institutional biases dominating the process.

R.B.Fuller posited that we should be seeking systematic solutions to problems through apolitical design. Yet even his legacy appears on the face to be corrupted by people who use monetary awards to marginalize those who do not share a left-of-center political agenda. Reward mechanisms are inevitably driven by ideologies. How do we make rational, objective valuation judgments without allowing personal agendas to overtake and game the economic system or even just a social Web system set up to fund truly beneficial projects? How is "truly beneficial" defined in practice? This is our national pain point, and one which I realize has deeply affected my own job search in recent years.

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