The IT Skeptic's tenth birthday post: on Optimism

May 16th was a special day for me: ten years since the first post on this blog.
I've had my ups and downs but I'm still going strong (though some would say I've grown too mellow).
How to mark the day? Instead of some self-indulgent retrospective, I'd like to recognise the occasion by publishing a second edition of "the Worst of the IT Skeptic" book. I'd like to but I wont, because after all these years I still haven't got around to a revision of any of my books. So instead let's talk about optimism.

This blog is the best thing that has ever happened to me, workwise, so I wanted to share something positive, useful, and forward-looking.

I am a skeptic. That is not always the same as a cynic. A skeptic seeks evidence before believing, so although sceptical I always retain my optimism and open-mindedness. I hope that shows through in this blog, despite whatever personal events affect me including a struggle with depression.

As a side note: men need to talk more about depression. The myth that it is a woman's problem - Mother's Little Helper - stems from the fact that men struggle on alone. Talk to people and get help. Citalopram is my friend and right now life is great. [From Roger in the comments: There should be no more stigma for getting treated for that as there is for arthritis.]

The world is perennially short of optimism, and these days are no better. The interconnectedness of the web allows the miserable to reinforce each other's message, and the media love bad news. I can't say whether it is any worse than past generations, but I certainly get sick of the lack of optimism today. Listen for example to this little ray of sunshine

I can't stop thinking about the reasonless, pointless damage that is happening this week. To prevent this was the fight we had last year, and this is the fight we lost. Futures smashed, jobs lost, visions denied and broken. This same destruction is happening to all our knowledge, our education systems, our sciences, our libraries, our museums. This week it's happening to the arts.
In the face of the real suffering in Nauru, for which our government is equally responsible, or the disaster overtaking the Great Barrier Reef, or the criminal fracking destroying our waterways, or the continuing institutional brutality towards our Indigenous communities, and so many other things, art may seem small, even trivial. I don't pretend that all of art matters as much as a baby crying on Nauru right now.
But these things are all connected: the desertification of our country, of our morals, of our thinking, of our souls. They all stem from the same sterile source, the structures and forces that dehumanise those who are human and reckon that the non-human world only exists to be shovelled into the great maw of profit. Our futures, individual and collective, are being sold off. If only they were being sold for a song. Maybe we could afford a song. We can't afford this.

FFS. It's people like this that are dragging the planet down.

Western Civilization ( and it's sidekick capitalism) lifted humanity out of the muck, doubled life expectancy, liberated women and children, created democracy, vanquished multiple dictatorships, created medicine where there was little, broke the iron grip of religion, produced the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the Digital Revolution, made literacy a right for the first time, created the internet, explored the planet, and any decade now will totally eliminate absolute poverty for the first time in history.
We've halved world poverty in the last two decades.
Life expectancy continues to rise worldwide.
The percentage of the world population dying from war is at historically low levels since World War 2.
We've destroyed smallpox and - any day now - polio, and now we are going after malaria.
And it gave us rock music.
Not bad.

Energy is effectively infinite once we crack the technological problems of fusion.
So too are primary resources especially if we can mine them in space.
The entire human race could live comfortably within the area of Texas so the holding capacity of the planet is vastly more than it currently is.
The food supplies of the earth are effectively infinite once we begin to create our own food supplies instead of harvesting them from nature. We already produce more than the world needs.
The capabilities we have now thanks to technology would be indistinguishable from magic a century ago.

If we did all that in the last century or two, we can crack our remaining major problems in this one.

As I said a couple of years ago:

I believe it is time to recover optimism. Let's shake off the misery, guilt, and reactionary rejection of science and reason that characterised the latter half of the 20th Century. The forces of post-modernism have destroyed our sense of objective value, inherent quality, integrity, rationality, and respect for expert knowledge.
Let's recover pride in our species, enthusiasm, and the momentum of Progress. We have it within our reach - we are on course - to raise the entire human race above a minimum standard of living for the first time in the history of our species, if we can shake off the endless grinding whine of anti-science, of those who would have us re-embrace the Stone Age.

Another particular focus of misery which annoys me is the Chicken Little cry of "the robots are coming!" Robots will not replace humanity at work. People will always find ways to harness the value of people. If a robot takes your job it's not a job you wanted. Work will only get better as we automate drudgery.
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This is just as true too in IT with the rising tide of automation driven by DevOps. People worry about their own futures. Yet automation only means that you do less of the drudge work and spend more time on the high-value knowledge-work which you should have been doing anyway if the urgent hadn't trumped the important.

In Information Technology we wallow in misery and and negativity. IT has always been over-endowed with misanthropic, cynical, destructive, negative people who drag everybody else down. Part of my joy in embracing the DevOps movement has been its belief in human goodness, and its optimism for the future: we can trust and empower people; we can expect the best from people; and we can deal successfully with legacy environments, constant change, and ever increasing demands on IT as we more tightly integrate with the enterprise.

DevOps people are positive people who embrace agility, inventiveness, exploration, and fun. It's time we had a sea-change in the culture of IT - as much as we need it in the wider community. Please try to be optimistic about our futures for IT and for the planet. It will make the future easier and more enjoyable.

For those who wanted something more retrospective:
1286 published blog entries.
Presented at over 40 conferences.
Over 100 published articles.
About 40 podcasts and webinars.
7 books.

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