I’ve been working in IT for a good few years (I think forensics counts as ‘working in IT’) , and like everyone else I have dealings with computers and related systems at home and in my everyday life. Over the course of time, I’ve come to the conclusion that everything to do with IT and computers is a bit shit. So much so, in fact, that it’s become a bit of a catchphrase in our office. Someone will be kicking the crap out of a dying workstation, screaming vile imprecations finishing with the lament ‘Why don’t you just fucking work!!!!!!!!’, and the laconic answer will come from another desk: ‘because everything is a bit shit’. Strangely, this seems to calm the ranter down. It’s as if by being gently reminded that shit is the natural state of things and that it couldn’t be otherwise, anger is deflected and a more philosphical frame of mind is achieved. This isn’t a defeatist attitude, in my opinion, it’s a worldview that is to be admired. I believe that this statement is supported by various schools of philosophy and science.
I’ll give you an example. We buy new workstations to replace old ones, and naturally they’re high-end, custom-specced monsters that can hopefully cope with the demands of the work. They’re powered by their own atomic substations, they howl like Heathcliff on the moor and they’ve got fans that an action movie hero could dive through to escape from peril. Everything’s lovely and you get that little Christmas thrill as you open the boxes.
Then you find that you can’t use the pretty USB slots that are secreted in a hidden alcove in the top of the case, and you’re pissed off because you really liked those hidden alcoves, they were beautifully done, real craftmanship, like a lacquered box of tea leaves you’d find in a geisha’s entertaining room in turn of the century Japan. But you can’t use them because the cables coming off them on the inside are too short to reach the USB headers on the motherboard – they’d work if the headers were on a different part of the board, but you got those Supermicro boards and now you’re stuffed. And the alcoves had this lovely soft action when you pressed them, the cover just slid down and then back like a puzzle box commissioned by a Venetian noble to hold a lock of hair from his beloved who died of consumption the night before their wedding. Yes, you could bodge up some extension to it, but it’s yet more time spent away from tackling your caseload, and it’s spoiled it now – even if it looked nice on the top, you’d know that underneath it was a load of stripped cables held together with duct tape. It’d be like the effect that seeing their wife give birth has on some men – after seeing their former lover’s parts in all their functional, biological starkness, it’s so hard to get that spark of passion back.
This is a minor, petty example but it’s a good example for precisely those reasons. It’s the little things that have the drip-drip-drip effect, that bring rage. And it’s usually the little things that occur most often – when your forensic storage medium is beeping like a crashing helicopter, you tend to get it sorted quickly. But the little, crappy things just wear you down slowly. The fact that vendors never really supported 64bit XP but you need the RAM it gives you access to. The fact that you can never really get your favourite caddy to mount reliably under Helix. The way that you can’t remember which bit of the DRM you’ve missed when trying to get the Pro Suite certificates going in Encase when they’ve already got every form of licence protection known to man. The way that Windows tries to assign your thumbdrive a letter that’s already taken by a mapped drive and your workstation take 10 minutes to open drive manager. Yes, they’re all fixable individually…but en masse? It’s like a horde of zombies leaving New York after an outbreak – slow, relentless, stupid, unstoppable.
We spend so much time fighting the shitness of things, and waste so much energy doing so, that we’re in effect fighting against the nature of the world itself. This is not the best of all possible worlds, it’s just one random cosmic fart of a world (according to multiple-universe theory), and not all that happens in it happens for the best. By accepting that we live in an imperfect world, where IT is shit because its complexity attracts entropy like wasps to a picnic, we can save ourselves. Not just by worrying only about the shitness that really matters, like the flakiness of external RAIDs made by a company whose name is a word often associated with ladies’ undergarments (the fun kind, not big droopy flannel girlpants), but by resisting the attachment to an unachievable perfection, because it’s that which will bring us nothing but ruin.
Buddhists observe that the cause of suffering is desire, and that the cause of desire is attachment to things that are transient. Any stability in a computer-related system is very frickin transient, as we all know. Attaching ourselves – investing effort and emotional energy – to the desire for this situation to change, can only lead to suffering. IT is shit. It cannot be any other way. If you don’t accept that, become a shepherd and you’ll be happier.
This post was brought to you with the help of Blondie, The Buzzcocks, A Tribe Called Quest and a just-about drinkable Tempranillo from Bargain Booze. It was hindered by the nosey woman on the train who kept trying to read what I was writing.