The psychology of cheap

My old landline phone gave out (yes, I still have one), and when I lifted it off my desk, I had to remove two wire connections. As I did that, I had a strong impulse to push the old wires off the back of my desk and let them fall (my desk faces a wall). Then, I remembered how I had finally decided to clean up the mess of wires behind my desk a month ago. I was forced to do it because I had some technical issues, and figuring out where each wire was connected proved not only difficult but also awkward. So, before adding the new phone, I forced myself to spend the extra 2–3 minutes required to tidy things up.

About five years ago, I had a discussion with a web manager who was quite stressed about the fact that they had a website with 500 pages of content. It was simply too much for them to keep up-to-date. I met the same manager recently and asked them how they were getting on. Everything was great now.

“How many pages do you have on the site now?” I asked.

“Thousands” was the reply.

“Thousands? But the last time I met you, you were stressed out because you felt you couldn’t manage 500.”

“Yes, but now that there are thousands of pages, nobody expects me to manage anything. I used to constantly fight with people, telling them that they can’t publish this and they can’t publish that. But now, I just go with the flow and put up whatever content I’m asked to put up.”

This should have been a “once upon a time” story. Instead, it’s a 2019 story. Content management has always been an oxymoron. It was never really about management. It has always been about cheap publishing and storage.

“Working on a data lake,” Steve Peters stated, replying to my last article on digital glut. “Asked the customer what data they needed from the source. They were too lazy to perform due diligence so they said "all of it". Not the first time and not the last time. It’s been my experience that 20% of the tables in a database hold 95% of the relevant data. But OK, if you want to pay for the other 3TB of useless data—OK.”

Artificial intelligence learns by analysing existing data. What sort of AI is going to evolve that’s fed on 90% junk data?

Digital is cheap but so too was oil. Cheap takes from the future to serve the present.

Cheap storage. Cheap processing power. Cheap energy. It’s all great. We don’t have to think. We just dump our content onto the website and let search engines figure it out. Why not leave stuff always on? I mean, what’s the harm if billions of people waste a little bit of energy every day?

Cheap makes us lazy. Cheap makes us short-term thinkers. Cheap makes us mindless producers and consumers. We can do better if we spend just a little more time thinking about what we’re about to do. If we spend just that much more time thinking about the future impact rather than present convenience, we can do a lot better.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
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