You can lose your love for technology. I’ve seen seasoned and successful software engineers give up their laptops and become farmers, therapists, or realtors. They may use spreadsheets and software to manage their crops, but code is no longer their primary concern. They are more concerned about goat disposal.
The basic spirit of technology is that once in, it’s for life. After launching my first app, I don’t want to do anything other than build apps again and manage when other people build apps. Just wanting a salary is questionable. Passion is required. So every time I fall in love with technology, maybe like she did five times, I keep my mouth shut. I am a professional software enthusiast and co-founder of a software startup. I browse GitHub and read random code for fun. So one day last month, I was having coffee before a meeting and I looked up from Slack and said, ‘Coffee is hot and liquid and people drink it.
I have to confess more. The drift started months ago. I don’t feel like parsing Wikidata, exploring obscure corners of PostgreSQL, or hacking climate data sets like I used to. I didn’t particularly want to know about the AI they’re releasing this Wednesday. My excitement became the inverse of industry excitement.
So I started filling my time by teaching myself to play the piano. (Okay, synthetic piano.) I found a bunch of old practice books on Archive.org and loaded them into my e-reader. I played chords and scales over and over. one of the books, Expansion of Peters’ Eclectic Pianoforte School, which shows a proper 19th century woman on the cover. The painting is quintessentially Victorian and silly, but I kept thinking of this woman as I practiced. She and her piano were the only way for her family to listen to music on a regular basis. She was the Sonos of her time. If you know audiophiles, you know how hard they struggle with equipment selection. But at that time a man married Stereo. The stakes were high.
The piano itself, or rather the keyboard itself, made me angry. Who designed this stupidity? With 7 white keys and 5 black keys all arranged around a single scale, you have to twist your fingers to play anything else. It’s a legacy interface, the Unix of music. Of course, the more I learned, the more I began to understand why things were the way they were.
Medieval keyboard development teams had to figure out how to organize the myriad frequencies into useful groups. They controlled the range, didn’t they? They decided that 12 notes per octave was optimal, especially when the notes were scaled to the 12th root of 2 (for obvious reasons). And we devised a 12-tone interface so that users can easily control frequencies regardless of their musical ability. Later, piano developers added volume and length controls as well as pitch. Quiet little staccato notes and sustained ringing chords available to anyone with a finger. The whole idea of Piano is a silly hack in physics, mathematics, and engineering.
And what did mankind do with this machine? Did we use it for its intended purpose, which was to play ecclesiastical chanting music, mostly in C major? Of course not. . Completely disregarding the designer’s intentions. Beethoven, Liszt, weird jazz voicings, John Cage sticking something to strings, Elton John in sunglasses, engineers jamming over some oscillators using ancient interfaces, synths is created. I fell in love with the piano not because it can be played, not because it is unbearable, but because it represents hundreds of years of utter human perversion and disrespect for everything that came before it.
Whenever we, my industry, get excited, we start talking about how to replace things with machines. Crypto was meant to replace banks. VR may still replace reality. AI is potentially going to replace everyone, everyone. Behind marketing, however, are always the most mundane notions of human nature. The industry aspires to us being consumers with rational and selfish goals (homo sapiens(Homo morestus). Yet, given a 12-note interface, we can make music for centuries, no matter how difficult it is to master.