Software engineers find it natural to talk about abstractions. We have ideas such as Decorators, Model-View-Controller, and
Message Queues. These abstractions allow software engineers to talk to each other using our own rich and succint
language. Abstractions, however, is not unique to engineers. In my role as a parent and an American citizen, I am
constantly confronted with new abstract ideas arising out of life.
The abstractions I am referring to are new words and ideas coming out of our shared culture. For example, words that do
not exist twenty years ago: Me-Too and BLM as well as a redefinition of words like gender and socialism.
I push back on new abstractions – I can’t possibly use a word that I don’t understand effectively. I try to understand
the term and see what it represents.
I think people push back on new abstractions because they don’t understand them.
This article is motivated by “When Technology Takes Revenge” from Farnam Street, which summarizes Edward Tenner’s
“revenge effect” abstraction.
As summarized, it states that this effect represents cases when technology makes things more complex and gives the
example of lights that must be controlled through an app rather than a physical switch. It seems to be a symptom of
technology being poorly introduced rather than an actual example of things becoming more complex. “Regenerating
Regenerating effect is summarized as a case when solving one problem leads to creation of another and uses pesticides
and antiboitics as an example. Pesticide appears to be a case of the Externality abstraction. Antibotics falls under the
abstraction of The Tragedy of the Commons.
Is described as when costs are transferred elsewhere so risk shift and worsen. This, for me, fall under the
abstraction of Externality.
A significant part of the article talks about variants of Unintended Consequences.
A useful new abstraction is the idea that technology can sometimes turn a well-defined, local risk into nebulous,
gradual ones involving the slow accumulation of harm. Creation of the corporations is an example of this. With shared
ownership, it becomes impossible to tie moral responsibility to a single person. Executives may come and go, as other
employees, but the harmful business does not change.
I’m sure Tenner has thought about these ideas long and hard. I don’t see myself adopting these abstractions in the