Simple Things Rule


“Keep It Simple, Stupid” used to say my grandma[1]. By keeping to this motto, there are a few things she never experienced (like this one, for instance). On the other hand, I can’t help myself but think that she actually had a point; as a matter of fact, as I progressed through the levels (ding !) years, I found many occasions to apply the KISS principle.

There was school, where things started to make sense once I realized[2] that it was all a matter of convention. You had to learn what they wanted you to learn by convention (not because it was stuff that mattered, or was remotely interesting); you had to answer the questions as they expected you to answer them by convention (not because your answer made sense, or was right by any other standard), and so on… Take the complexity of a school schedule, a large number of subjects, throw a social conundrum like the ‘social life’ we had in school, and what you get is a fairly complex system. KISS by turning it on its head (“it’s convention; don’t try and figure it out”) and things become much more manageable.

Women Girls came a few years later – they turned into women later on- and there was a lot of KISSing involved. Of course, it started out on the other end of the spectrum: complexity. “Are we dating? Does she know we’re dating? She loves me? She loves me not? Will she kiss? Will she do more than kissing? Is she faithful? Where is she? What does she want? What did I do? What did I not do? Was that an earthquake? A terrible flood! Locusts ! It wasn’t my fault, I swear to God!” Can you feel the anxiety just by reading those few memories? So, to Keep It Simple: guys and gals are different, think different, act different… they share some things, but not everything, and guys simply cannot figure out how women think[3]. If she wants to spend time together, fine. Otherwise, I’ll just order another Grappa[5].

Driving became a lot easier once I decided to KISS and drive on the same side of the road as everyone else… These are just a few examples, but I’m sure you can relate. Why am I writing about this? Well, the fact is that I just realized that, indeed “Simple Things Rule“. Sounds great, doesn’t it ? You can even make a TLA for it: STR! It sounds like ‘pure win‘, as if it had a marketing department and a search engine optimization department built-in. However, it has a nasty consequence; namely, the fact that “Simple Things Rule“. As in: they will take over and rule your life, whether you want it or not, whether you expect it or not. Whether you prepared the rest of your life for it or not. Simple Things will, by their own nature, seem innocuous enough that the unwary passer-by will pick them up, take them home… feed them and cuddle them…

Simple Things: cute little and cuddly, like Gizmo

Simple Things: cute little and cuddly, like Gizmo

Then, they take over your time, your attention, your life, your secret diary from 5th grade, your secret stash behind the couch, your life (again, just in case there was anything left after the first time), your everything… your neighbors won’t escape either. If you try to complain, well anyone with a grain of salt in their head will smile politely and point out that these cuddly innocent-looking things told you since the beginning what to expect: “Simple Things Rule” !

Simple Things Rule: now you have a problem

Simple Things Rule: now you have a problem

Don’t believe me? Look.. the first time someone came up with the idea of sending a message over a computer, what did we do? Everyone gathered around to celebrate about it[6]. Today? One of the most often reported issues in any working environment is “too many emails!“. We have emails, instant messengers in more flavors than ice-creams, newsgroups, and more. Heck, we have people making careers out of promoting productivity guidelines like “Inbox Zero”[7]
The same goes with another simple innocent idea: let a few scientists and geeks share information through computers, so that they stop showing up at the frat house. Enter 3 terminals, a lot of geek rejoicing, and many more jokes involving prime numbers. Follow that with ARPANET, sprinkle with TCP/IP, an economic bubble or two and you have: The Internet! Talk about things that take over your life…

I don’t think I have to go in details to convince anyone that these are not isolated cases, right ? Pen-n-paper RPGs -> MUDs -> MMORPGs -> you don’t have a life anymore
Pigeons -> Telegraph -> Radio -> Telephone -> Cell Phones -> iPhone -> your life is leased to AT&T for at least 2 years
Deck of cards -> Poker -> add stamps and OCD people -> CCG (a la Magic: The Gathering) -> your life, and finances, are tapped until the second coming (or your next turn’s untap phase)

I’ll leave you to reflect now. Hopefully, after reading this you won’t be so naive the next time you see a Simple Thing[8]. Until next time, Godspeed.

Edit: Something silly happened with the images; my apologies. It should be fixed now (file under “Famous Last Words”)


[1] No, not really. For one thing, she never learned English.

[2] When I say “once I realized”, I mean “once my uncle explained it to me for the googleplex-th time, and everything else failed.”

[3] Partially because, well, we’re imbeciles (see [4]), and partially because we’re.. well.. guys. Additionally, I theorize that the inverse is also true – namely that gals can’t figure out guys. This, however, is because of different reasons. Specifically, the fact that guys are imbeciles and therefore inscrutable to a superior (feminine) intellect.

[4] There is no note [4]. I told you we guys are dumb, didn’t I?

[5] We’ll revisit the topic of “What should I be drinking at 9:00 AM on Monday morning?” another time, I hope. in the meanwhile, here’s some info about Grappa, since it is rather uncommon here in the US.

[6] Most people would probably categorize that celebration as “quite geeky”. Rumor has it the most memorable joke told at that party had the following punch line: “Of course not, it’s a prime number!”

[7] Ok, I really tried to get a good link to explain what “Inbox Zero” might be, just in case you never heard the term. I failed. There’s plenty of results for “Inbox 0” or “Inbox Zero” (and more similar terms), but I couldn’t quite find a nice authoritative source for this practice. You can do your own research, but, in short, it’s a theory saying that your productivity will increase if you make an effort to keep your Inbox empty (i.e.: with zero unread emails). I’m not joking: there are people going around as ‘consultants’ preaching this sort of stuff. I believe evolution and natural selection would have already stepped in, if emails were not actually threatening our survival as a species. Hell, there’s a bloody Flickr Group dedicated at this topic. Go see it: 746 (and counting) pictures of empty inboxes!

[8] Last month “Most Dangerous Simple Thing” list was topped by RSS readers and Twitter. In order to write this post I had to research the topic, and fell victim to a coordinated attack by the two. My life is now ruled by a Sisyphean attempt to reach “Google Reader Zero” status and more than 1,000 followers.

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One thought on “Simple Things Rule

  1. […] Note how Jeff’s linked post on the topic is entitled “KISS and YAGNI”; are we coming full circle […]

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