Its a problem written about in detail by Marcus Aurelius in Meditations when he comments on running an empire. He notes that the most difficult part is not having information in a timely fashion at scale -- you can either have timely information about a single place, or out of date information about the entire empire.
They key part in both is trust and responsibility. You must trust that granular objects can take responsibility for themselves. If each one requires knowledge of the entire system to function, then the weight of that will overburden any system over time.
The general problem is the growing number of dependencies. James Burke in "Connections" warned that civilization is an interconnected web of technology traps. We survive as long as everything works (or "mostly" works), but there is a risk of cascade failure.
More recently, Dan Geer warned about the same type of problem:
In the last couple of years, I've found that institutions that I more
or less must use [...] no longer accept paper letter they each only
accept digital delivery of such instructions. This means that each of
them has created a critical dependence on an Internet swarming with
men in the middle and, which is more, they have doubtlessly given
up their own ability to fall back to what worked for a century before.
Everything in meatspace we give over to cyberspace replaces
dependencies that are local and manageable with dependencies that are
certainly not local and I would argue much less manageable because
they are much less secure. I say that because the root cause of risk
is dependence, and most especially dependence on expectations of
Accommodating old methods and Internet rejectionists preserves
alternate, less complex, more durable means and therefore bounds
dependence. Bounding dependence is *the* core of rational risk
In fact, the internet was funded by DARPA to deal with disruption of the conventional communication network.
True, but they are different dependencies. One of the goals is to eliminate the risk of common-mode failure. One failure that makes the internet inoperable also takes out everything that depended on it, which shouldn't be "everything".
While the current structure may not reflect this (and, to the extent it doesn't, this is a problem), a central part of the idea of the internet is that it should be structured so that a single failure would at most make a minor part of the internet unusable, and perhaps cause a two-way partition between remaining usable parts, not make "the internet" unusable in a general way.
> a two-way partition
These are localized problems, not common-mode failures. I'm talking about a problem with something that takes out a significant portion of the internet. This isn't about a simple network partition; a common-mode failure is a problem in something that is common to an entire class of devices.
A totally contrived example might be a worm that bricks routers (we've seen a few router vulnerabilities recently) and spreads with the speed of the fastest worms. Good luck finding "usable parts" of the internet when a large part of the routing capability needs to be physically replaced and reconfigured. This risk has grown in the recent past with the centralization of many services.
In other words, you aren't walking your check to the IRS, the postal service couldn't deliver it, your bank couldn't cash it even if they did, and WTF would the IRS do with a billion checks?
However, the IRS maintaining the capability of using old, simpler methods should be retained because it serves as a backup for (hopefully rare) situations where the primary infrastructure fails.
Because we have better ones, that are less expensive, in many (but not all, due to excessive design rigidity in some cases) cases cheaper to adapt to change, and provide more value. That benefit is significantly limited if you bear the cost of maintaining (across requirement changes) the old processes (or analogs to them reliant on similar infrastructure) as well as the new processes, especially if you have to maintain the infrastructure (including the human infrastructure -- e.g., for the IRS, of people trained to process tax returns by hand) they rely on.
> However, the IRS maintaining the capability of using old, simpler methods should be retained because it serves as a backup for (hopefully rare) situations where the primary infrastructure fails.
Certainly, functions that are short-term critical need some fallback. Functions that aren't, it may be more efficient to devote resources to restoring the primary infrastructure rather than burning them executing inefficient backup processes in the absence of primary infrastructure.
You just pointed out a reliance on banking system. IRS can not function without it and that may be considered a problem. For a fail-safe measure, other means of payment or taxation should be devised/allowed, like paying with gold (or other valuable assets) or provision of services for local/national authorities.
> it's unreasonable to expect institutions to build and test paper alternatives just as a backup.
Some type of backup is necessary for anything critically important. From my previous :
In sum, as a matter of policy everything that is officially
categorized as a critical infrastructure must conclusively
show how it can operate in the absence of the Internet.
And for dependencies that aren't local to begin with, mail doesn't offer any advantages in terms of cascade failure - you're still relying on some centralized infrastructure that can't really be maintained just locally, and if it goes, your connectivity breaks down all the same.
It's a pain in the left kidney to read on mobile.
Just use asterics around the text to italicise it to indicate it's take from elsewhere.
This has been a public service announcement.
Once you pass that magic threshold the people that report to you will take advantage of any slack you give because micro-managers don't inspire or create loyalty. They will also actively avoid making decisions because that's the manager's job and they don't want them all over their ass for being autonomous. At that point you're a manager with no time to think about the long term and you're in firefighting mode constantly. And I can't say I have any sympathy. You reap what you sow.
Larger governing bodies need to provide a basic framework, the minimum standard and boundary for the system's operation. Possibly a framework for re-adjusting or outright re-initiating failed layers they contain.
They should then provide both the goals and responsibilities to their contained units, but not an express direction on how the task is to be handled. This allows for adjusting and reacting at a more finely grained level which also reduces the time needed to reach consensus and adjust.
I would like to provide an example. It's true of the metro area that I live in, and I suspect it is true of others as well. There appears to be a complete disconnect between landing sources of jobs, providing places for workers to live, and reliable transit to/from jobs. In particular suburban sprawl from hell exists (yet is confined vaguely within outlying urban growth boundaries); a result that is a misuse of resources and ensures that traffic is a nightmare. What's worse, departments of the government, such as the DoT, are so focused that they can only see trying to use their own specific hammer on the problem, instead of working with other departments to reach an actual solution.
In the containers system, the DoT would work with some urban planning / their own measurement to show current and projected traffic needs, as well as the budget required for tolerating them. Their containing layer, reacting to the massive budget shortfall properly, would pass directives that require localities to increase the density of 'quality' housing and lower the housing prices, and 'make the housing attractive to families'. The localities would then react and modify the environment, leading to an actual solution to the issue.
Government is a complex system, just like an engineer of any discipline should recognize, and it needs a massive overhaul.
I don't think it's that simple. The "goals" of a city are the goals of the people living in it, which are as complicated as the city itself. Your example is actually a great illustration of how large-scale decision making can go wrong: the sprawl met someone's goals, or it wouldn't have happened, but it didn't match the needs of the actual people living in the city. In general, how do you know the goals you're dictating are the right ones? A better focus would be on ways for individuals and communities within cities to organize, communicate their needs and get resources to solve their unique problems.
It seems to me that in Toyota, a first, basic process is designed centrally by someone who is an authority in that specific area, but realizing that the top of the pyramid lacks the on the ground information necessary for continuous improvement, it pushes agency to change the process down to the bottom of the pyramid, to the people who make up the process.
That is how Toyota is able to evolve their process and achieve yearly gains in efficiency of around 10%. There's no great genius other than in the insight that the boss can't do the job of his subordinates, that knowledge is situational.
And that is probably why companies fail to adapt the TPS - because they do not trust and even despise people on the floor.
This is not a phenomenon of just cities or other large societal systems. In my experience, this is already true for many a single company.
Your lack of belief in the force of the free hand is troubling, especially when it can be proved by computer models and reality.
I grew up going to school in the burbs, all summer in a small home-town - and have lived in several major cities.
'City people' are definitely more about the money.
Small towns are communities. Everyone knows everyone - often for multiple generations. Families have ties - not just people. You can't 'not care about' someone you've known for 40 years, even if you don't know them that well.
In cities, people are exposed to a lot more people, they have tons of 'associates' but very few friends. People come and go - and they get individualist.
I find city people, having been exposed to 'more kinds of people' tend to be more 'tolerant' in the modern sense of that word, but have absolutely no idea what community means and are far more judgemental, ideological, selective in everything. City people walk and talk with a kind of 'facade' - they are trying to project an image - almost all of them. In a small town - this would seem ridiculous.
Also in small towns - when people speak to you - they are speaking to you then are 'present'. In the city, people are usually polite - but conversations (and relationships) 'transactional'.
My brother (small town) threw a big bar-b-q for his friends birthday, and invited a bunch of people. Some really odd red-necky types showed up - and don't mean negative - just poor. They were welcome. Old guys in wheelchairs. Young partiers. It was an unbelievably mixed crowd. I don't think my brother would have preferred they came - but there is no way on earth anyone would say anything - after all 'it's joe from the corner store' - and 'Mary, Sean from across the streets Aunt'. When you go to social gatherings in urban areas - they tend to be hyper-specific in terms of social groupings.
Even the near-homeless/poor people in small towns 'know someone' and most people 'know them' by name. Down the street from where I live (urban) - there are a couple of completely 'nameless' homeless people.
Also - small town people tend to have a lot of gatherings where it's mostly family. In the city, often less so. When you hang around mostly your family and extended friends, it's a completely different world from 'people your age in your clique' etc..
The craziest thing about this - is 'city people' often have absolutely no idea what a community actually is. They make all sorts of crazy assertions, but have no clue.
You call this guy a 'bumpkin' because - no offence - you might not know what he is talking about - also - your comment might be a kind of bigotry.
In the suburb where I grew up - I don't know anyone. They've all moved. I have some contact - but the people, stores, restaurants, neighbourhood - totally unrecognizable. My 'hometown' - I still know some people, epc. through family. It's incredibly boring, and would be nary impossible to live there (it would be nice if it were a commute from a city), but if I don't go back often enough, I go crazy.
To someone from a small town, living in a city often feels like 'living in a corporation' - and to some extent they are correct.
I feel like I got the worst of all of the worlds. There wasn't a real sense of community, but there was also a major lack of opportunity.
And had a trans person showed up, how would that have gone? A Latinx person? A queer couple?
Had the opposite experience moving from a suburb to a major metropolitan area.
There's a level of community here (not all communities are communities that straight white tech workers are involved with or are welcome in) that is unparalleled.
It may cause the hyper privileged to become more individualistic but for everyone else we have thriving communities with true friendships and support networks.
'Communities of choice' work when you're young OR when you're part of a specific ethnic group (say Somalis in Philly or whatever) - which is in many ways like a 'small town' within a city.
(What you are describing did happen to me a long time ago, and it did take a long time to work my way out of it. So It's a completely valid point)
Trans or Queer - that would have been different. You can be gay in the country, but you can't flaunt it. If you were to have introduced 'your boyfriend' that would have made people feel uncomfortable. Trans - well - you'd be treated fine, but like someone with a disability type thing. People would not accept it as your identity, but just consider it weird.
Here's the big thing: When you know people you treat them totally different than what your prejudices might incline you towards. I didn't say 'small town people' were more tolerant in the classical sense - in fact I said 'city people' were more tolerant. BUT - and here's the differentiator: if you're gay - remember that everyone has known you since you were a kid. So it's the difference between someone being 'uncomfortable with gays' to 'my brother/cousin/family friend' is gay. Which is a completely different social context.
"There's a level of community here (not all communities are communities that straight white tech workers are involved with or are welcome in) that is unparalleled."
I've lived in San Franciso - in the heart of the Castro - with gay people - and I know the micro-communities well enough. Yes - any grouping of marginalized people tends to be a little closer, and I do agree that there is 'community' in the Castro for example.
BUT - this is definitely not the norm in cities or burbs.
AND - it's not the same. Nobody will care about you when you are old, young kids will not know your name, the young gay kids will laugh at the older gay dudes to their faces and be pretty harsh etc. (although, I think this is a special feature of that community).
When my (small town) Grandfather passed away - his wake was 3 days long. 3 days of people streaming by his casket. He owned a hardware store and was a 'good community member'. He wasn't anyone really special. But you spend 94 years in one place and you literally know thousands of people - most of whom would 'pay their respects' by coming to the wake. The whole community mourned.
If you've ever seen how the Danes have their old age homes, their much smaller, familial and local, they are still in a way, a part of the community. I think that the North/West European countries have a huge social advantage on North Americans when it comes to community culture.
Finally - and more controversially: most European and Asian nations are ethnic groups - so people are surrounded by 'like people' in terms of ethnicity. A lot of culture boils down to ethnicity. When people are surrounded by other people within their ethnic group - there is no 'hatred' for others, it's just that they feel more affinity for 'their own'. If you're from a small town - it's not something you ever really think about. It's just normal. 'Multiculturalism' challenges all sorts of norms and wipes out the things that differentiate us. The burb I grew up in was the most multicultural place in the world: Mississauga, Ontario (burb of Toronto). People were friendly, we got along very well, but ironically - a complete absence of culture. We have a word for it 'living room culture' because outside the home there's nothing. In the city I live in now, almost all the local cab drivers are from Haiti. They feel alienated and often want to go home when they have enough money even though it's much less advanced. Why? Because 'it's home'. I am sympathetic to them, and not upset with them because they 'don't like my culture'. They want to 'be among their people'. Who can blame them? Again - that's another issue or urban cultural dissonance that is too uncomfortable for most people to talk about in North America, so the discussion never happens :)
Please like Munich, Frankfurt feel pretty 'small town' relatively speaking. People tend to stay put a lot longer (like forever, even hundreds of years over generations), and the geography of those cities are completely different as well.
Because I look at this:
> 'City people' are definitely more about the money.
And then I look at Berlin (3.5 million people!). And I just laugh.
Berlin is not like Munich or Frankfurt - and does not fit the template of most other German cities. It's quite a bit bigger and spread out. That said - it's more like Frankfurt than it is LA. Also - 'Greater Berlin' is more than 5 million.
Also important to note: many European cities don't have 'suburbs'- what they have is 'city core' then 'dense surrounding'- which is not that much - but instead of suburbs, they have tons of 'surrounding towns'. It's really quite hard to describe.
Frankfurt - I could almost run across it in my daily run - and it has big skyscrapers. It has the busiest Airport in Europe!
Imagine taking all of Maine + Vermont - and instead of 30Km between each small township - make it 3km. So basically, you have tons of 'mini, distinct communities'.
Many of those 'mini communities' are 1000 years old type thing, and people are not very transient.
Within those communities - generally things are walkable, you have unique local restaurants, often high quality, artisans, small businesses, sometimes Universities.
Much of Europe - and to some extent Asia - is like this.
It's hard to describe but obvious when you see it.
It's the model I think we, in North America, should have used for urban planning - instead of the mega-city model.
The irony is so deep.
I was making generalizations about people that I think is true.
But I wasn't calling people names, or making them seem as though they are 'out of touch and stupid' because they are either from the city or a small town.
There are advantages and disadvantages of both - but city people are by far and away more 'individualist', in much the same way that 'Americans' are usually more individualist than say, Swedes. It's just a generalization, not bigotry.
It's not a stereotype, it's true.
There's a lot of data on urban/rural happiness and it all points in the same direction.
As for the other attributes, they are generally true.
Spend more than 3 months solid in the same small town. Then come back to the city - it will feel weird, antisocial, and a little crazy.
NYC (where I live) is wildly inefficient, except at delivering benefits that millions of people consider worthwhile.
- Cities are inefficient Rube-Goldberg contraptions
- Portions of city systems are too complex for one person to understand
- We see evidence of complex, unpredictable systems when things go wrong
- Cities have multiple complex systems that can and do produce unpredictable failures
- Methods inspired by scientific study may help us improve city life
I'd summarize it as: Here are some problems caused by complexity, and here are some (vague) ideas for how to fix them. From the article's content, I think there's an implied "yes" answer to the title.
Make our comprehension of the world more manageable by limiting the amount of information we have to interact with at any time. Our experience of the world can be made comprehensible, or incomprehensible, by design. - Mark Burgess
The effect of limited information is that we perceive and build the world as a collection of containers, patches or environments, separated from one another by limited information flow. These structures define characteristic scales. - Mark Burgess
The more details we can see, the less we have a sense of control. - Mark Burgess
Separation of concerns ... a necessary consequence of loss of resolution due to scale ... a strategy for staying sane. - Mark Burgess
These quotes are all from In Search of Certainty: The Science of Our Information Infrastructure (2013), via my fortune database https://github.com/globalcitizen/taoup
I'm flipping quickly through a copy of Arbesman's The Half-Life of Facts and am disappointed to see that he (or his editors) have fallen prey to the gross misconception that numbered footnotes and bibliographies somehow diminish a book's value. Quite the opposite. (THLoF has end notes, but they're not indicated within the text, and insted reference pages and passages, which is a form of torture to be included in a future revision of the Geneva Convention.)
"...This can include such things as cataloging bugs and unexpected behaviors in our infrastructure (like how a naturalist might collect insects)"
This sounds like what anybody working on a computer can use at a place like Stack Overflow. People have problems, post a description of it, and somebody else who happens to know helps them. The result of this process is available to others on the web who might have a similar issue.
Just like life itself.