Out of our control

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Yesterday’s post on our macro view of complexity brought to mind an interesting change in technology that took place in less than 100 years: we no longer have individual understanding of our machines.

When Emil Berliner and Thomas Edison came out with their Gramaphones (later called record players) they were able to grasp, manipulate and control every part in their mechanism: the motors, the recording devices, the pickups, the speakers the cabinets themselves. That is not generally true today where designers take prebuilt technology and put it together to form a new device.

Take our Network Bridge as an example. Our chief engineer for embedded system, Dennis Kerrisk, has built this product from the ground up and has labored over every inch of it for several years now. Yet, the truth is he has only labored over the grouping of complex modules and their interactions with each other. Inside the Bridge are multiple complex systems that hundreds of designers have contributed to over many years. No one person understands everything inside a PS Bridge.

No one person understands everything in a computer, in iTunes, in eLyric, in an iPod or even something as seemingly simple as a home router – heck, how about just a preamplifier?

When I was a teenager I felt comfortable opening up the hood of my car and fixing anything that was wrong with it – that certainly isn’t the case today – and probably wasn’t even the case back then if I had to dig deep.

In less than 100 years our technology, and the systems built with that technology, have moved from individual understanding to required group understanding. I can’t image we’ll ever be able to go back.

As a matter of fact, I have no desire to go back (certainly not my ’57 Ford wagon).