Technological schadenfreude

I had a tweet Twitter go viral yesterday, at least relatively viral. Elon Musk could tweet a punctuation mark and get an orders of magnitude more traffic, but this was viral by my standards [1].

“That schadenfreude-like feeling when you realize something you felt you should learn but didn’t is now obsolete.”

Apparently this resonated with a lot of people.

Schadenfreude is an ugly emotion, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. In my tweet I’m taking pleasure in the downfall of a technology, not a person. Or rather I’m taking pleasure in my somewhat passive decision not to jump on a bandwagon.

It’s hard to know what technologies will be worth learning. One approach, the just-in-time approach, is to learning nothing until you have an immediate need for it. Another approach, the just-in-case approach, it to learn as much as you can, just in case you have a future need for it.

A strictly just-in-time approach is not optimal, but going too far toward the just-in-case end of the spectrum is bonkers. I’ve erred on both sides. More on the trade-off here.

A good rule of thumb is that the longer a technology has been around, the longer it will be around, all else being equal. This is known as the Lindy effect, and although there’s a lot of nonsense out there from people using Lindy as a adjective, there’s something to the principle. Here’s a post where I try to add some nuance to the discussion, including a little math.

Related posts

[1] Social networks have a roughly power law structure, which means the network looks qualitatively similar at various scales. Or as De Morgan put it,

Great fleas have little fleas
upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
and so ad infinitum.