[ Question ]

Forbidden Technology

by lsusr 1 min read25th Apr 202021 comments


Do you benefit avoiding certain popular technologies? What alternatives do you use?

Some technology (like flashcards) is good for you. Some technology (like heroin) is bad for you. As technology advances, both kinds of technology are on the rise.

This is especially obvious with regard to information technology. Over the course of a few years, I ran a series of experiments to figure out which mediums make my life better and worse. This culminated with a one-year commitment to abstain from the bad stuff.

I've found it improves my quality of life to avoid specific non-media technologies too:

  • Desktop GUIs
  • Closed source software, including any smartphone without a custom ROM
  • Fresh grocery store tomatoes
  • Exercise machines
  • School
  • Jobs

Instead, I use the following alternatives:

Everything on my personal list of forbidden technology is a commercial product optimized for ease of use. My alternatives tend to be cheap or free, but also skill intensive. It could be that the learning curve keeps most people away.

But that's not what really kept me away from these things for most of my life. It's not like growing tomatoes is hard or antimemetic. The real reason I didn't grow tomatoes for so long was simply because I didn't know how much better homegrown tomatoes taste. Having tasted them regularly, it's hard to go back.

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In software engineering I find a strong tendency in myself to lean towards harder-to-understand tooling in order to keep from feeling bad or worrying about my own intelligence. After becoming aware of this habit, I started to prefer PaaS (Heroku) over Iaas (AWS) for everything it's feasible to use it for, garbage collected languages (Go, Lisp, Python) over manual memory management (Zig, C, C++) for things that don't run on toasters, dynamic languages (Lisp, Python) over well typed (Haskell, TypeScript) languages, languages with small amounts of core features and constrained architecture choices (Lisp, Haskell, Go) over languages with lots and lots of features (Java, C++, JavaScript, Python), and procedural (Lisp, Go) over object-oriented or purely functional progamming languages (Java, Haskell, C#).

I have come to realize that there's a very big difference between technology that remains unused because it is hard to use, like Haskell, and technology that remains unused because it requires up front investment in the form of practice or study of arcane and uninteresting stuff, like Vim. I now pretty much religiously avoid use anything that involves ongoing intellectual effort on my part, as the tradeoff is almost never worth it. I might write a post about this and link it here.

I suggest you try Doom Emacs. I switched recently and refactored my entire config to it. It's much better than Spacemacs. Faster, less buggy, less cluttered.

I also urge other people to take this post with some healthy scepticism. There are a lot of costs in switching the mainstream with a niche product, and it is almost always a tradeoff that you need to consciously think about and keep evaluating its empirical results over time. On the example of emacs, I personally went from a person who didn't know much about CLIs and the shell to a person who is better than most on zsh scripting and knows some sysadmining. (Of course, emacs only pushed me in the right direction. It began the process, and I rolled with it because CLIs rock.) I lost a lot of time over emacs though. I spent days fixing broken configs that were fundamentally broken software that could never work stably. I also lost a lot of time finding emacs in the first place. I have tried a lot of alternatives (with each "try" wasting days by itself.). All in all, know that there usually are good reasons why something is staying niche. The trick is to find the niche products that are suitable for you.

For me, the exact the same list, but backwards.