The progressive are often outcasts

If you look back through history, many of the innovative scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and others who helped progress society (be it technologically or socially) have, at the time, been considered outcasts.

Whether you want to believe it or not, I think that today’s technology is stifled. I have my own individual opinions in several areas on why this is the case. Enumerating and explaining these would probably take too long anyways. However, there are enough similarities to discuss. Some days I wonder actually how many people are actually aware of how much technology we have available in the world which just isn’t or can’t be applied because of social, political, legal, or other reasons. I know there are good reasons for this, but just saying from a pure technology perspective, technological progress is generally at odds with capitalism as well as social normality as a whole.

Here are some of the examples I would use today.

  • With both cameras as well as televisions now capable of displaying 4K content, you would think that modern delivery mechanisms for delivering video content to our homes would actually be progressing in a direction allowing for clearer content at larger resolutions. This just is not the case. (Note that its actually degraded even more today in 2010 than 2 years ago.)
  • With technologies such as 40Gb & 100Gb here and almost here, you would think that our data connections to each other would also be getting faster as well. This is also not the case. While the US did improve from 35th to 18th over the course of 2009, overall, our average internet speeds were reduced by 2.4%. (This is one area where I am actually happy with the 16Mbps I am getting today, but obviously that is 4 times the average, so many others must be getting slower speeds.)
  • Given the current wide array of available technologies to capture, store, and transmit digital video in addition to the extremely wide array of available content today, level of difficulty, limited set of options, and cost involved today in just trying to tap into even a SMALL set of this information is really saddening. I admit, this day in age is the information age without a doubt. The amount of detail and information simply available at one’s finger tips is absolutely amazing (and scary). However, for whatever reason, we have also entered an age where information is controlled and protected as well. Don't get me wrong, I actually do believe in some control of information. There are some situations, where I think that it is appropriate actually. There have been times in the past where I have realized some thoughts / ideas which used incorrectly or in the wrong hands are just dangerous. I know that saying such a thing somewhat contradicts my argument here, but we are all contradictory at times so tough.
  • Heard about HTML 5 and about the video support which comes in the standard? Did you know there are some problems that this idea exposes? Yes, for whatever strange reason, computer video is one of those things which has been licensed for a long time. There were no technical reasons why XP couldn’t playback DVDs for instance without something else installed. It’s just that it costs a lot to license the ability to play back the video off of the disc. Since then, Microsoft pays for the ability to play DVDs in every copy of windows sold. If you ever wondered why software is so expensive, there are many various licenses which are included in the cost of the software so that the user has the right functionality. Anyways, the problems with MPEGLA continue today it seems and there is no clear solution for HTML5 at the moment.


I could probably go on for a while actually, but suffice to say, we as a society are all quite mired in our own devices so much so as to tangle technological progress right up in the middle. Again, for disclosure, I make my livelihood off of software, but I feel very confident in saying that while corporations ARE a business, at work, I have the progressive capabilities of users in our best interest on a daily basis. For that matter, given my position, its part of my job actually. For that matter, MS has quite a large and respected research division as well that works on a wide range of technology areas.

I was having a lengthy discussion with someone today around software licensing. The result of that conversation was this entry. My thoughts on the subject are “complex” and probably differ depending on a variety of situations. I don’t need to get into it other than to say that there are a variety of different software licenses out there today. This can create a nightmare for developers and software companies though. Because the nature of software can be broken down into finite parts, there is always much concern on ensuring that these parts are either original works or are properly licensed. Such isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se. However, its the complexities and implications involved with any given license which can scare just about any professional software developer. There are enough examples out there as well of when people make mistakes in this area as well. The results are never positive. So again, while I probably agree to the concept of licensing in principle, the implementations we have today sure do hold up a lot of potential progress. (Note: I hope that the irony of this statement isn’t lost on people. Yes, I pointed out that the complexity of these licenses has the net opposite effect on what many were created to ensure in the first place.)

So why the title you may ask? Well honestly, here again we are in several socio-technical situations in which progress can only be achieved by going against social norms. There are days where I wonder as a society how long we will be stuck here. Will this last for only another 5 years, 10 years, or longer? Combine the ease of information flow with litigious society, and there is actually zero tolerance these days for any type of social deviance at all. This is BOTH good AND bad.

Who will be our next progressive figures? Who will have both the knowledge and resources to be able to forge new paths silently and against the flow?

You may ask whether all I am really asking is when is someone going to beat the system? Not really. The way that I see it today, a healthy dose of confrontation is already weaved into the problems that exist already. I think there may just be too many social and legal problems today for any non-deviant / socially compliant person to be able to legitimately transform the technical landscape very much and it saddens me to have to say that.


P.S. On an entirely separate note, I finished a Google Voice SMS app for windows mobile which I wrote using the WM6 SDK this weekend and have it running on my phone. Seems to work fairly well with one exception which is that it won’t actually get notified of new SMS messages yet. :( But, step one was just to send free SMS. Let me know if you want a copy, its completely standalone if you have a GV account.

(Oh, and if you didn’t follow any links, you should know that half the meaning in this post is in the links. Plus it took several extra hours researching and gathering all the right places to link to.)

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