Complication accelerates knowledge loss


“Complexity can be tamed, but it requires considerable effort to do it well.” –Don Norman

This principle comes from Jonathan Blow.

When a system (like software, or a business, or an economy) gets complicated, the increased complication spreads like a cancer. This cancer destroys knowledge in three specific ways.

There’s more to know

More to know means less can be known. Complicated systems require more humans to manage them. Each can only understand a small percentage of the whole picture. This leads to fewer experts.

Deep knowledge is replaced by trivia

Without a a clear and coherent picture of a system, people need to memorize situation-specific “trivia” to explain how it works. The more complicated the system, the more arbitrary the trivia feels:

In the United States electoral college all states except Maine and Nebraska use party block voting or general ticket method.

Unlike knowledge, trivia doesn’t apply to anything else in the world. (Knowledge is not the same as information)

Good answers are hard to find

“More to know” means fewer people are willing to become experts. “More trivia” means more junk answers when you search the internet. Complicated systems may eventually become impossible to solve.

All of this accelerates knowledge loss and knowledge loss is bad for humanity. Fight increased complexity like invasive species or disease. Our survival may depend on it.