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Friday, March 12, 2010

slow processes

I think that watching computer technology develop sometimes is disheartening for us humans.
We watch things go faster and faster, and see any process which once took an hour and a person to help with it, now take a single function call in a high level interpreted programming language, and a few seconds of processor time.

Seeing this, and looking at ourselves, and our own development, its hard not to feel impatient with ourselves. Some things take years, and lots of work, and the progress is still only partial. Things like developing friendships, coming to terms with our past, and finding an appropriate way of life, profession, etc. How do we keep our dignity and allow ourselves our slowness when many things seem to be faster and faster? I think there is some flaw in thinking that devalues something for its slowness. When we have a beautiful tree in the yard providing shade for years, do we put this tree down because it took so long to grow? No, in some sense the time it took to grow adds to its value.

So what is the difference between a tree and a Fourier transform algorithm? I don't think many people would wish that their basic programming tools could run a little slower. We like responsiveness.

How do we defend slowness? Perhaps the point is again back to the question of dominant natural and technological language. This computer age asks us to put all things in terms of algorithms and processes. But our own lives are mysteries in some ways. When we translate this into computer language, we have inevitably left things of value out. In the same way that when we translate into economics language, we also leave things out. Its certainly worth the effort to try to understand why some things are slow, and all of the different things that are involved in the process from an algorithmic perspective, but one should also just accept that the translation is only partial, and slow things of great value exist.

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