The Platform Paradox
Everyone wants to be a platform. The potential to change how people view or consume a product is intoxicating. And when one sees giants like Facebook, LinkedIn, AirBnb and Uber taking over the world, it’s hard not to want in on the action. Many people have written about the positive and negative implications of this. In this article, I wanted to offer up an opinion as to why the situation arrises in the first place, and how it could shape how we view object oriented programming as a model for existence.
When we want to store information in our program, we assign in to a variable. Before long, we want to not only store information, but process it, so we make a function to handle the task. And before we know it, we have a set of functions working together towards a common goal, and so a class is born. Finally, the classes join together, and a fully functioning program is created.
Let’s see how this life-cycle plays out in our our own lives.
The deepest human drive is to give, and the ultimate form of giving is to enable someone else to actualize his or her potential. But we all start out much smaller than that. As babies, we are completely takers. Like variables, we have little to no ability to think for ourselves, and are generally what we are given or told to be. As we grow, we begin to develop functionality, albeit limited. We can now take it small bits of information (other variables), process them, and produce results. At first they are linear results (if input = chocolate, return “Yum!”, else, “Eww!”), and then they become create (if input = chocolate, return “More please!”, else, “Where’s my chocolate?”).
We are now little functions. But it doesn’t stop there.
Slowly, but surely, we develop new and more nuanced skills. We take in larger amounts of information, more complex variables, and even call on other helper functions we’ve built within ourselves to create novel return values: Who to be friends with? What food do I like? What do I do if I don’t get what i want? Where to go to college? What career to pursue? Eventually we define ourselves as a unique collection of abilities and knowledge that can produce creative results, and at that moment, we have become a class. Before long, the deep drive to create kicks in. And you know what that means. That means it’s time to instantiate little instances of ourselves and give them access to all the functions and data we’ve developed. Even the ones our instances are going to hate us for in their teens!
At a certain point, we sense that we can be doing more, not only for ourselves, but for our instances. So we make ourselves into a super class that other classes can inherit from. We give them their core functionality, but they are the ones making unique decisions about who they are and what they want to be — all within the framework we’ve provided. And then the final step comes. We develop ourselves even further, providing the core functionality for a host of super classes to inherit, and at that moment, we have become a platform.
We started out as tiny little variables, expecting the world to take care of us, to define our existence for us, and look at us now — allowing others to define their own unique existence within the framework we’ve provided, and to create new and wondrous programs even we hadn’t thought of.
Everyone wants to be a platform because it mimics the highest form of human giving — enabling others to achieve their potential. But if one jumps too high too soon and becomes a platform, at best he’ll have no one to give to, and at worst he won’t have what his users need. But if one doesn’t jump at all, and instead stays a variable, he’ll never experience the true actualization he’s capable of.
But here’s the kicker — at the moment we achieve what we set out to accomplish — at the peak of our creativity — our existence and definition becomes completely dependent on what our instantiations create, and so in a sense, we have no intrinsic existence. We are completely dependent, like the little variables we started out as, and yet completely actualized, like what we set out to be!
This is the dance of growth and development.