On Spam and the "Simple" Computer

Brad Templeton has an essay on the 25th anniversary of spam that deserves some attention, especially his observations on the conflicts involved in calling for its censorship via blacklists and the like. via BoingBoing

Spam pushes people who would proudly (and correctly) trumpet how we shouldn’t blame ISPs for offensive web sites, copyright violations and/or MP3 trading done by downstream customers to suddenly call for blacklisting of all the innocent users at an ISP if a spammer is to be found among them. People who would defend the end-to-end principle of internet design eagerly hunt for mechanisms of centralized control to stop it. Those who would never agree with punishing the innocent to find the guilty in any other field happily advocate it to stop spam. Some conclude even entire nations must be blacklisted from sending E-mail. Onetime defenders of an open net with anonymous participation call for authentication certificates on every E-mail. Former champions of flat-fee unlimited net access who railed against proposals for per-packet internet pricing propose per-message usage fees on E-mail. On USENET, where the idea of canceling another’s article to retroactively moderate a group was highly reviled, people now find they couldn’t use the net without it. Those who reviled at any attempt to regulate internet traffic by the government loudly petition their legislators for some law, any law it almost seems, against spam. Software engineers who would be fired for building a system that drops traffic on the floor without reporting the error change their mail systems to silently discard mail after mail.

It’s amazing.

Dan Bricklin’s old essay, from March 2001, on The “Computer as Assistant” Fallacy has some interesting points to be made about the complexity we sometimes ignore in common devices because we’ve become so used to their presence. My favorite example is the car. via Genehack

Being hard to learn, very dangerous (prone to crashes if we don’t pay careful attention, and even then not totally safe), and in constant need of maintenance (like getting fuel and oil), etc., has not held our society back from becoming dependent upon the automobile. It’s just one of the things we need to learn and keep up with.

Why should we expect technology or computers to be any different? Part of their inherent charm is that complexity can be abstracted away and that complexity can also lead to unexpected applications.