Does Software Need to Solve Problems?
“What is the problem your software is solving?”
Usually, if you cannot answer this question, you are expected to stop doing whatever it is you are doing and reconsider. After all, we live in the world of immediate gratification. If you cannot resolve a real and existing need then you do not deserve the resources or the attention. There are too many others waiting in the line to do their 30-second elevator pitch to the venture capitalists, so, please, move over, give space to what’s really needed!
However, what if we stop here for a second? Why do the things we create have to only solve problems? Do musical instruments solve problems? What about the great works of literature? Or the beautiful pieces of art? If anything, they create problems and by creating those problems they shift our imagination and culture further, helping us to evolve as the human beings. Software can also be created this way.
To only write software that solves problems is to remove the artistic potential of the technology we create.
Solving a problem is patching the world that already exists. Creating new problems is generating the seeds for the new worlds to emerge.
To relegate software to the practical realm only is to miss out on the immense resources that have become available to us with the technological advance.
We need the software that works like art. The software that poses new problems. The software that makes us fantasize and think in a totally different way. The software that blows our mind and stimulates us, so we come out of the comfort zone and learn something new, get a new perspective, try something completely unexpected...
We need more software where the notion of "interesting" is more important than the notion of "useful".
Unfortunately, there are not too many examples of this kind of software. (If you know any, please, post them in the comments below.) The world is too immersed in its problems, desires, and needs that have to be quantified, realized, and, ultimately, eliminated (only to give space to the new ones).
Part of the problem is the quantification of value in terms of attention and money that something gets. People are ready to pay for the things that have an immediate effect. That’s why they prefer to take a magical pill instead of having a regular physical practice. Our monkey brains are wired to satisfy short-term desires, and that’s where the money and resources flow.
In order to change this we need to change our notion of value
. Once the basic needs are taken care of, what else do we need? Do we really need the software that finds the nearest pet food store? Or do we prefer to make a little effort and spend the time on learning a tool that can make us see things in a different way? This takes a different human operating system
, so that we can rewire ourselves.
Computer games are almost a step in this direction, but not really. They are not useful, but they also rarely have an agenda apart from retaining the user for the longest time possible using the various addiction-based pathways embedded in the fabric of the game.
“Not useful” is not the same as “useless”. When something is not useful it can still have a use, but maybe this use is not something immediately seen and maybe it’s something that takes time and effort to explore. Just like when we’re learning a musical instrument. Playing piano can be so many things. For some people it’s about expressing themselves, for some others it’s entertainment; it may also have no conscious reason at all, but just feel good in some strange way that is unlike anything else...
We need more software that is not useful, that does not solve problems and that is more like the works of art or the musical instruments. The software that takes time to learn and to understand. The software that can be used in many different ways and especially in the ways it was not designed to.
We need to be able to play our tools and not to merely use them.
This way we will be able to harness the power of technology to not only solve our scanty little problems but to evolve as species, fusing our inspiration and creativity with the technical progress in a truly artful and creative manner.
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