On Complacency

I encountered the wonderful neologism “consumer-lifestyle anxiety” the other day. It manages to describe so much of what my digital life has turned into.

Recently I was trying to find software to annotate a maps for a travel itinerary. I wanted to go make a list of interesting things in London, and put them all on a “walking-around” map of sorts. That way, I could have a loose itinerary, and wherever I was, I could pull up this walking-around map, and see what was nearby.

I guess that’s not how people do this, because Google Maps on iOS doesn’t support maps made with this Maps Engine, or My Places, or whatever it’s called. And Google Earth for iOS hasn’t been updated since before iOS 7. It has two menu options for custom maps or My Places, and one of them says the operation can’t be completed, and the other one says “No Maps Found”. So, fine. Maps Engine exports to KML, and Galileo imports KML. Except now the little map icons I set, so that I can tell if something is a museum or a restaurant, are all the same icon. Because KML is a standard, but apparently the place marker icons aren’t standardized.

So I wrote a Python script to import the KML from Google Maps, and then process it and replace the icons with the ones from Galileo. And something occurred to me while I shaved this yak: I’m no longer motivated in solving the problems that became my career.

It feels like a curve. When I was very young, the only way I knew how to fix something in Linux, was just to re-install the whole thing and start over. And there was a time in the middle, during college, where I was capable of fixing things: compiling kernels, compiling wireless network card kernel modules, getting sound to work, writing my first web applications, and all the little systems I tinkered with in college.

Around 2008, I slowly stopped caring about solving these deep, interesting—or at least relevant to my discipline—problems, and started just wanting perfection. Refusing to use an old app for iOS. Refusing to use any apps except the absolute best, the ones with the highest reviews, the most attention. I can’t count the amount of time I’ve spent rearranging icons on my iPhone. This weird sort of fidgety digital pruning; constantly wanting to be on the bleeding edge as a consumer, and no longer as a tinkerer.

That dovetails with my minimalism a ton. Tinkering requires clutter. It requires the corpses of old desktop computers, hard drives, wires, tools, projects constantly half done scattered all over one’s living space, terrible code lying around, undocumented projects, the natural entropy of the creative act.

So either my ecosystem, or my personal laziness, or some other aspect of my life, has made it more difficult for me to really want to solve problems in the way I’ve been trained to. The sheer frustration of dealing with terrible software has definitely worn on me. But even for someone who has the power to change it, it’s getting harder to rationalize.

It’s my hope that writing more here will help stimulate my desire to perform creative acts, to engage with the software community, and fix things. So here’s to 2015.