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Technological Minimalism

No gain, no pain.

Technological minimalism is a philosophy of designing technology to be as simple as possible while still achieving given goal, possibly even a little bit simpler. Minimalism is one of the most (if not the most) important concepts in programming and technology in general.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sums it up with a quote: we achieve perfection not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Minimalism is necessary for freedom as a free technology can only be that over which no one has a monopoly, i.e. which many people and small parties can utilize, study and modify with affordable effort, without needing armies of technicians just for the maintenance of such technology. Minimalism goes against the creeping overcomplexity of technology which always brings huge costs and dangers, e.g. the cost of maintenance and further development, obscurity, inefficiency ("bloat", wasting resources), consumerism, the increased risk of bugs, errors and failure.

Up until recently in history every engineer would tell you that the better machine is that with fewer moving parts. This still seems to hold e.g. in mathematics, a field not yet so spoiled by huge commercialization and mostly inhabited by the smartest people -- there is a tendency to look for the most minimal equations -- such equations are considered beautiful. Science also knows this rule as the Occam's razor. In technology invaded by aggressive commercialization the situation is different, minimalism lives only in the underground and is ridiculed by the mainstream propaganda. Some of the minimalist movements, terms and concepts include:

Under capitalism technological minimalism is suppressed in the mainstream as it goes against corporate interests, i.e. those of having monopoly control over technology, even if such technology is "FOSS" (which then becomes just a cool brand, see openwashing). We may, at best, encounter a "shallow" kind of minimalism, so called pseudominimalism which only tries to make things appear minimal, e.g. aesthetically, and hides ugly overcomplicated internals under the facade. Apple is famous for this shit.

There are movements such as appropriate technology (described by E. F. Schumacher in a work named Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered) advocating for small, efficient, decentralized technology, because that is what best helps people.

Does minimalism mean we have to give up the nice things? Well, not really, it is more about giving up the bullshit, and changing an attitude. We can still have technology for entertainment, just a non-consumerist one -- instead of consuming 1 new game per month we may rather focus on creating deeper games that may last longer, e.g. those of a simple to learn, hard to master kind and building communities around them, or on modifying existing games rather than creating new ones from scratch over and over. Sure, technology would LOOK different, our computer interfaces may become less of a thing of fashion, our games may rely more on aesthetics than realism, but ultimately minimalism can be seen just as trying to achieve the same effect while minimizing waste. If you've been made addicted to bullshit such as buying a new GPU each month so that you can run games at 1000 FPS at progressively higher resolution then of course yes, you will have to suffer a bit of a withdrawal just as a heroin addict suffers when quitting the drug, but just as him in the end you'll be glad you did it.

There is a so called airplane rule that states a plane with two engines has twice as many engine problems than a plane with a single engine.

Importance Of Minimalism: Simplicity Brings Freedom

It can't be stressed enough that minimalism is absolutely required for technological freedom, i.e. people having, in practical ways, control over their tools. While in today's society it is important to have legal freedoms, i.e. support free software, we must not forget that this isn't enough, a freedom on paper means nothing if it can't be practiced. We need both legal AND de facto freedom over technology, the former being guaranteed by a free license, the latter by minimalism. Minimal, simple technology will increase the pool of people and parties who may practice the legal freedoms -- i.e. those to use, study, modify and share -- and therefore ensure that the technology will be developed according to what people need, NOT according to what a corporation needs (which is usually the opposite).

Even if a user of software is not a programmer himself, it is important he chooses to use minimal tools because that makes it more likely his tool can be repaired or improved by SOMEONE from the people. Some people naively think that if they're not programmers, it doesn't matter if they have access and rights to the program's source code, but indeed that is not the case. You want to choose tools that can easily be analyzed and repaired by someone, even if you yourself can't do it.

Minimalism and simplicity increases freedom even of proprietary technology which can be seen e.g. on games for old systems such as GameBoy or DOS -- these games, despite being proprietary, can and are easily and plentifully played, modified and shared by the people, DESPITE not being free legally, simply because it is easy to handle them due to their simplicity. This just further confirms the correlation of freedom and minimalism.


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