How Good is Good Enough?

I read a fascinating post tonight by a self described painter/computer guy by the name of Maciej Ceglowski who has a blog called idlewords.com. The first part of the post gives a super condensed history of commercial aviation, and posits that if you were to ask an engineer in 1965 to predict what aviation would look like in 2015, the possibilities would have been endless and extravagant. The least likely scenario would be that essentially nothing would change in 50 years, yet that’s exactly what happened. Ceglowski’s reason for this is that the Boeing 747 was exactly good enough for it’s purpose, ferrying humans around the planet quickly and cheaply. You can’t really improve on that without serious costs of all sorts.

The rest of the post predicts that the internet will follow a similar pattern, that in 50 years it will look and act roughly the same way it does today. He goes on to break the future of the web into 3 possible visions. The first being as a place to exchange information (what we have now). The second being the Silicon Valley version of the future where software fixes everything (The Andreesen version — this profile of him makes S.V. sound like the most absurd place in the world — worthy of an HBO comedy even…) And the third being the robots take over the world vision of the future.

I don’t know which one you predict will happen, but the argument Ceglowski’s makes for “good enough” would make the first version of the future the most likely. It’s certainly the most reassuring to me, because damn it, good enough sometimes is actually GOOD ENOUGH. The neverending echo of “always get better” can be completely exhausting. Living life in full MAXIMIZE mode can be debilitating, not only to happiness, but to performance as well. Some of the most content and succesful people I know are masters at embracing and cultivating their talents and strengths, rather than dwelling on getting better at everything. Is there a more overwhelming and unattainable goal than “get better at everything?”

So assuming the basic needs of humans don’t change in the next 50 years, and given that the internet already does so many things well enough to serve those needs, it’s reasonable to think that the web will go the way of the jetliner, and continue to quickly, safely, and cheaply carry us around the virtual world for many years to come.