Sunday, April 7, 2013

The tyranny of choice

One of the maximums I have derived over the years is that choices are bad: options are just another way to screw up.

Case in point: I have a wireless router, and I have a PS3. Plug them in and turn them on and they talk to each other. Great! Except. The router supports multiple methods of connection (G, N, Mixed). The PS3 supports those as well. Left to their own devices, both machines default to selecting the slowest mode. If I restrict the router to only supporting the G method, then my download speed to the PS3 increases by a factor of 50.

Presumably turning off the other modes means some devices might not connect to my router now, so I can understand why the router felt it necessary to default to supporting everything. But can anyone ever give me an adequate answer why the PS3 should look at all its options and choose the worst one?

Of course, if there were only one method, then everything would just work automatically. But then a company couldn't muscle the competition out of the revenue stream. If nothing else explains why the Libertarian fantasy is insane, surely this must. If we let computer corporations build the highways, you'd only be able to drive on roads that matched your car's manufacturer.

Sooner or later governments will recognize codexs and network standards (and even operating systems) as public infrastructure too important to leave in the hands of private corporations. And once the IT industry is brutally oppressed by the heavy hand of government, it will... explode, just like the automobile industry did once government standardized the rules of the road. (And operational design, and safety design, etc. etc. etc.)

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