Disorganised v.s. Neat Systems

The Information Management: A Proposal is as the title hints a proposal written in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee while he was working at the European Council for Nuclear Research or CERN. The essay talks about the benefit of interlinked databases in the research environment and how to implement them at CERN. An interesting concept of the Internet is it’s lack of centralization, it is for all intend and purposes a huge mess, and that is why it has endured so much and will continue to do so in the future to come.  Let me explain why this is so. In System Engineering there are tenants or rule-of-thumbs that are the basis to any good system design. They might not all apply to one specific system but they are tested and proven principles that make a system robust and efficient. The rule that applies to our situation here is, Sloppy systems are often better: “Diverse, decentralized systems often seem disorganized and wasteful, but they are always more stable, flexible and efficient that “neater” systems” (Kauffman, 1980). Basically highly adaptable systems look sloppy compared to a systems that are well-adapted to a specific situation, but the sloppy-looking systems are the ones that will survive. The picture bellow is a diagram of the Department of Defense procurement process and system life cycle management. It’s not a perfect system but it is highly adaptable. The current problem with this model is that innovation or changes is quite difficult to implement, mainly by fear that it could destabilize the whole process.

For example lets look at the human body: it’s not particularly simple or centralized, it’s filled with redundancies and fail-safes of sorts. When we get badly hurt, we usually bleed everywhere, it’s very messy but that messiness makes it incredibly resistant and has a huge capability to adapt to different environments. If we know look at current technology there is a trend to produce products that are self-contained, all-in-one and all that in the smallest possible size. This results in cutting edge (literately) computers and cell phones but drop it in a certain way and BOOM the screen either shatters or just goes black! Some would argue that it’s not a problem because they change cellphones like they change clothes. Maybe we are progressing towards a disposable technology age, but in our current time, where waste management and pollution are the two biggest problems our society is facing a question arises: Are we going in the right direction?

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