IsoThoughts It's a big world out there!

The Fallacy of Utility

I've always struggled with finding vectors to direct creative energy into. There is a vast, unbounded universe of wonderful projects already built by others and seeing that makes it easy to get discouraged, to think that everything worth doing has already been done, and to feel like there isn't a project in the world worth doing. At the same time, even after finding an idea that seems interesting and novel, it's easy to feel following through isn't even worthwhile, that by dedicating energy towards that specific idea one won't be making the world a better place.

It is easy to feel this way: We are bombarded with messages that tell us the output of our efforts must have utility in the world, must contribute to the whole, and must make things better. Our lives are driven by a value system that solely tabulates our worth from our real, economic impact. We work jobs not to express ourselves, but to further the goals of a company, and even that company often only exists for the purpose of furthering the goals of others. These aren't particularly depressing things, they are a natural way for a society to be structured, but at the same time they mustn't make up the complete dimensionality of our existence.

There are many other good reasons to work on a project outside the realm of instrumental value. Projects that inspire others, that are beautiful but not useful, and that spark new thoughts in the minds of those who see them are just as valuable as a project that makes it easier to track a grocery list.

Even projects that aren't about the output, but are instead personally satisfying to you the individual are just as valid! Perhaps you're not trying to build a big impressive something to show the world, but instead are merely curious about a certain facet of it and wish to explore. That's just fine too, and if you never show anyone the results of your efforts it's alright. Explore the things that are personally fulfilling, that you're compelled to do, and don't limit yourself to only the things that have utility.

Today I became fascinated by the idea of how to evenly distribute an arbitrary number of points on a spherical geometry. This problem doesn't actually have an obvious solution, and instead several approaches with various trade-offs have been dreamed up. I spent most of my day implementing some of these approaches, writing small programs to render them, and enjoying the thrills of trigonometry. I'd like to one day write up some of implementations I coded and post about it, as these are delightful things to share with others, but I'm not doing that today.

This indulgence was, by many measures, a complete waste of time, and I still did it anyway and that's my point. I enjoyed my entire day learning new things and writing small bits of self-contained code. These things are things I intrinsically love to do, and they are things I would have felt guilty about spending time on if I evaluated them in that constrained way of thinking I've just described.

I write this post because I accidentally fall into that way of thinking all too often. Perspective is a powerful idea, one that I'll circle back to over and over again in my writings and thoughts, and the lose of perspective is a tragedy.

If you're having trouble finding places to invest creative energy, build whatever the heck you want and don't worry about whether it will be useful or interesting to the world! Most great ideas seem to come from such distractions anyway.

Hello World!

It's been a while since I've had a blog! I graduated college, started a career, and got really busy. I'm going to change that. I enjoy writing and there's a lot I'd like to share with the world. I've been developing software as far back as I can remember and along the way I've gained a lot of opinions, thoughts, and experience. I attribute most of what I know to knowledge stolen from a countless number of articles, posts, and documents authored by others and I want to give back.

I make no promises, but with any luck I'd like to author something interesting every week or so.

The last time I authored a blog I stuck strictly with really dry technical material. Part of me still thinks that's what the internet could use most, but this time I want to be a little more open-ended when it comes to topics. My passion in life is technology in every sense. The nitty-gritty details, how to approach it, how it affects our lives, the implications it has, and the policies and politics that surround it.

Our community is increasingly under the watch glasses of both governments and the average citizen. Issues like net neutrality, privacy, copyright, and the freedom of information are being hotly debated and policy is being created that will have far-reaching effects long into the future.

At the same time we continue to push out the limits of what's possible. Year after year the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to improve and the state of the art continues to march forward. We gallop with seemly reckless abandon as the impossible continues to crumble.

It's all so very exciting to be a part of and I'd like to share some of that excitement with you. Onward we go!