Don’t Conduct The Autopsy Until The Technology Is Dead

Every few days, it seems that I get an e-mail from some tech company talking about what killed the hard drive.  The biggest problem with these e-mails is not the murderous glee with which the pitchmen talk about how they did in a longstanding technology, although I must admit that I am not fond of those who delight in making waste of the ways that people live and work [1], but rather with the fact that they are obviously premature.  Hard drives are not dead.  I happen to sitting right next to one of them right now.  Even the articles themselves, when you get beyond the clickbaity hype of the headlines and move to the slightly more sober and restrained text, make the more modest claim that by a certain time, a fifth of all companies/users are predicted to use a newer form of storage than the hard drive.  A change in the behavior of a fifth of people from one technology to another is certainly a notable shift, but it is not something that will kill a previous form of technology, which will likely hang on as a niche industry for quite some time as long as some people continue to use it.  Just think, for example, of how many people still use vinyl records and glory in them, despite there having been several generations of music technology that have developed since then.

In thinking about why these articles bother me so much, much of my issues spring from two related causes.  For one, as I have mentioned, the headlines of the articles are not strictly true.  Even if, for the sake of argument, hard drives had been mortally wounded by the development of new forms of storage, and would no longer be the predominant means of storage for people, there would still be a purpose and a role for them.  For one, many forms of cloud storage depend on the existence of reliable internet, and in some parts of the world (and even some parts of the United States) that cannot be assumed.  Where you cannot easily connect with high speed internet to access remote storage, one must have some kind of local storage to draw from.  Likewise, where there are great security concerns about connections, people will be encouraged to have backups and local storage for more sensitive information, thanks to the fact that those who promote the security of the cloud have a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to convincing people of the security of online information in light of the massive and pervasive reality of security breaches of information kept by those who fancy themselves trustworthy stewards of it.

Another part of my difficulty with such articles is the fact that the tone of them is so bothersome.  It is one thing to recognize that a certain amount of change is constant and that there are people who wish to justify and encourage change because it helps their bottom line and keeps them busy engaging in research and development and consulting and in selling products and services to those people and companies who wish to remain on the cutting edge or at least not hopelessly behind.  I understand this, even if it is not something I particularly like having to deal with.  If my own personal preferences were taken into consideration there would be a mild pace of change that was not pushed but that developed organically and in tandem with the increased well-being of the general public at large.  Efforts at change would be viewed with a critical eye as to their effects on front-line workers and on the basic decency and respect of those people with the most vulnerability to loss.  Obviously, few people have asked for my opinion in such matters and few people care, but given this sensitivity to the effects of technological change and the general lack of sensitivity that accompany change efforts, I am not the sort of person who will rejoice in being a murderer or an accomplish in the destruction of old ways in favor of untried and insecure new ways.   By nature and temperament I tend to be a rather cautious and conservative person ill-suited to hype machines of any kind.

And when you get to the bottom of it, my offense springs from the fact that the writers and publishers of articles like these are missing their target wildly when aiming their hype machines at me.  There are ways to appeal to people who are cautious and conservative and who prefer things that are tried and tested and secure.  The fact that such ways seem to be rarely tried does not mean that they do not exist, but rather that people who use technology at the level that I do and who are engaged in data science are assumed, quite falsely in my case, to be the sort of people who appreciate change for the sake of change.  All too often, people fail to recognize that whatever is gained through most forms of technological change, something is lost as well.  And what is lost can appear to be far more than what is gained, at least at the beginning when the hype outweighs the sober testing and rules of best practice that inform those who move at a gradual pace.  We would all be better off if we mourned anything that died, and recognized that with the birth of new things there is potential and there is promise, but that all too often the performance fails to live up to the promise and the potential that we see.  And it is by performance that we are judged.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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