That’s the thing about aggregation: one can understand how it works, and yet be powerless to resist its incentives. It seems foolhardy to think that this might be true for economics and not true for ideas, even — especially! — if we are sure they are correct.
~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2022/the-current-thing/
Sometimes I read things on the Internet and I want to throw my keyboard (my title is a reference to 1980s console games where one might get furious, and rage-quit by throwing the game’s controller.) Partly, my urge to rage-quit is from exasperation that Thompson keeps cranking out these great articles (and his podcasts Dithering and Exponent and this other thing he did that is awesome but you wouldn’t understand because I can’t explain it well) while I’m over here plinking away writing snarky blog posts when I should be earning a living.
But also because of the point of the article which is found in my pull-quote of the entire final paragraph.
I already made the case in 2020’s The End of the Beginning that tech history was best understood as consisting not of multiple eras — mainframes, PCs, mobile, etc. — but rather as a multi-decade transformation from a computer-as-destination to computing-as-background.
~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2021/sequoia-productive-capital/
I love the little aphorism that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Magic isn’t unreal! You will believe a magic “trick” if the magician is willing to spend more time, money, or both than any sane person would, (to paraphrase Penn Jillette.)
There is no super-natural magic. But today, there is an amazing amount of the real kind of magic. …it’s just not evenly distributed, (to paraphrase William Gibson.)
Fewer are aware that the PC wasn’t IBM’s only internal-politics-driven value giveaway; one of the most important software applications on those mainframes was IBM’s Information Management System (IMS). This was a hierarchical database, and let me pause for a necessary caveat: for those that don’t understand databases, I’ll try to simplify the following explanation as much as possible, and for those that do, I’m sorry for bastardizing this overview!
~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2016/oracles-cloudy-future/
And, today this web site is a tech blog.
I’ve read, (technically I am in the process of reading,) everything Thompson has written. I skimmed through this long article since it wasn’t news to me. However, if you take about 10 minutes to read this, you’ll know more about Databases and the Big Kids who made the things which became the things you now use every day, than pretty much everyone else on the planet.
What is new is the increased splintering in the non-China Internet: the U.S. model is still the default for most of the world, but the European Union and India are increasingly pursuing their own paths.
~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2020/india-jio-and-the-four-internets/
Sometimes my blog briefly turns into a technology blog—recall, this blog has a purpose; It’s a vehicle for my process of reflection. Boop! It’s a tech blog.
This terrifically clear overview of how the different Internets work together, and will be working together less in the future, is a must-read for anyone using the Internet. (Hint: That’s you.) We—ok, not me, but I bet you—don’t think about where exactly all the things we interact with are located. This article by Thompson will give you a basic picture. …literally, there’s like a crayon drawing at the end of it.
There is no question that apps are here to stay, and are a superior interaction model for some uses. But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.
~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2014/web-still-matters-writing/
That’s from 2014, and holds up pretty well I think. That the web, “fills in all the gaps,” is insightful. Sure, the technology that defines “the Web” drives an enormous amount of stuff other than written content. But even just the smaller portion that is the written word is a huge swath of time and attention. That speaks well for us in the aggregate.
I still believe that the problem, currently, is simply that people rarely bother to figure out how things actually work. People don’t tinker and change things. Once someone gets the bug of curiosity, it’s a slippery slope from poking and prodding, to tinkering and experimenting, to building and creating; It’s a slippery slope lined entirely with reading.