Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

What's Possible

I worry a lot about not being introduced to enough new things. For the last couple of years I've spent most of my professional and personal time on DHTML and JavaScript. While I used to write quite a bit of Python, I now spend my time almost exclusively in some sort of ECMA-262 interpreter, and it scares me. Not perhaps because it's too limiting an environment, but because I've gotten too used to my own pre-conceptions of what is possible. With DHTML in particular, I find just having my conceptions of what's possible expanded is enough to turn intractable problems into straightforward tasks. Being able to value a problem more accurately is the key to solving or avoiding it.

A conversation I was recently in turned directly to the value of valuing things. Someone pointed out that in the valley, and esp in a time of growth like right now, it might just be better to shut up and let the hype do some free marketing for you. Another other countered was that if you stop exercising the capacity to discern good from bad, you eventually loose the ability to make the distinction. Obviously, making the distinciton and announcing it are different, but both points still stuck. The value of looking locally for short-term opportunity is a bet against the opportunity cost of continually integrating new information which would allow better foresight of what can happen. Conversely, investing in expanding my view of the possible robs from making the currently possible a reality.

That's the basic tension playing out in my head. On the one hand, I know I need to spend time discovering new things, but in doing so I consciously allocate time away from things with measureable payoff, e.g., fixing one more Dojo bug vs. learning a new programming language. So 8 years after I started first feeling this particular brand of guilt I'm only now coming to terms with the fact that it will always be with me. I'm not sure if that's liberating or frightening.