Infrastructure and the Folly of Entrepreneurism

It is part of the purported American Dream that entrepreneurs are the championed critical part of the economy. We need new ideas, new technologies. I don't think many would argue that we should avoid furthering our understanding of the universe and apply that knowledge towards betterment. But in championing the entrepreneur, the media extends a biased point of view; namely, that what we have is inferior and needy to what we could have.

It is this central tenent that can be taken as the emperor's new clothes of capitalism. Progress is championed, maintenance is not. Sustainability is often, and rightfully, presented as an ecological argument. But the ecology we are hurting, ultimately, is the human race and whatever other species we take along with us. Short of atomic holocaust, the biosphere will recover. Civilization, on the other hand, is fragile, yet we play with it as a toy.

I am an open source software engineer. While I don't want to make this a software article, the microcosm I live in is a good analog to the microcosm we all live in in developed world service economies. Are you smart enough to be aware the most "third-world" and developing countries understand global economics better than "the American workforce" for whom the dollar per day poverty line is laughable. When sexy new technology comes out (and I emphasize the sexy), it is advanced to an impossible level very quickly. In the first world, we can get a telecommunications device with computational power exceeding the '60s that fits in our pocket for the price of a Valentine's day dinner. Yet we put up with failing infrastructure. Why?

The economy of goods, land, and service is dead. Enter the economy of attention, and behind both the old and new models, the economy of control. I emphasize "we" in the article because it is us. There is no hidden cabal. There is only social behaviour. What do we put our attention on? Is it worthwhile?

The reason that I am an open source software engineer is because I am trying to fix the software infrastructure for us. I don't view my job as "saving the world" or any such grandiose concept. I view it in much the way that a man would build a house that they would want to live in. Do I care about civilization? Yes, though perhaps less than you think. Most people act like they care about civilization that much neither understand it nor know what it is. I would be sad if we went back to barbarism. Profoundly sad. But really, I don't think it is particularly important to the universe or anything.

I was thinking today that, given an entrepreneurial opportunity in open source software development, I could be a great director of development. Set up continuous integration immediately. Infrastructure is your product: make sure it is generic is usable by others. Buy in to open source communities in an actual way. Then I realized.... what did I want to produce?

Really, there's not much software I am excited about as much as I am excited about cleaning up infrastructure quite a bit. We have computers, cars, 5000+ years of historical documents (the dead sea scrolls, the mona lisa, last week's jersey shore). So what do we want? Do you, personally, care about having the next gadget? Or are you more concerned about seeing your friends and those close to you? Do you care about acquiring money? Or are you more concerned with having some reasonable measure of safety, stability, and access to resources? Your gadget will only work until it won't and it can't love you and your money won't be worth much if civilization falls.