You Are More Intelligent Than You Know


It is not good for you, as a technologist, to be mystified by things unfamiliar. Why? Because mystification undermines confidence. Without confidence it is difficult to form up intentions, carry them out, and get work done.

Sure, it takes knowledge to use technology, but more and more study is not the solution. What then? Counteract mystification by (skeptically) saying the following:
1. "There can be only so much to it." — There must be some number you can put on it.
2. "It must be like-to something I know already. This thing can be only so different." — If it is a language then it must be comparable to another language you know.
3. "It must be grounded on top of something I know." — It makes system calls. It draws pixels. It writes to a database.

You can make intelligent guesses, because you already know plenty. Those guesses can frame up what you learn further. Knowing everything is not, and cannot actually be, important. The real way to get somewhere is to have confidence and make good use of your intellect.


"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" — The Red Queen, to Alice.

Is it really the case that you must run as fast as you can to keep your place? Yes, it seems to be so. No, that does not feel right. Running as fast as you can is not very intelligent, so why should it work? Or does nothing work? Something must be wrong here.

Supposedly, technology is advancing "so fast". And what should that mean? It should mean that over the course of decades, technology must have advanced very far indeed. But has it really advanced that much? Are we now orders of magnitude better at implementing C, UNIX, Emacs? We cannot be, otherwise we would not maintain legacy systems, but rewrite them, and with ease. If we are not using something decades-old then we are using something like it or building directly on top of it (just about). Really, things have not moved so far that the claim that things are advancing "so fast" is supportable. Further, if things were advancing that fast then our ability to keep up ought to have likewise advanced. If you are running as fast as you can, you have to wonder how much good it is doing you.

What then? Standing still is not the way. We want a way to advance without having to cover everything, all change. Well, we already have a way — we have our intellects. How much we undervalue them! Intelligence is what lets us see many things by looking at a few things and get done much by doing little. This describes intelligence, yet it also describes technology; that is no coincidence. Technology comes from putting intelligence into the world. The best way to advance technology is to be intelligent about it, and that is within your power to do.


  • How much are things really changing today compared with other times, such as the Industrial Revolution?

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