The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Wednesday, 13 March 2013]

The cargo cult of technology

Computers are complicated. This brings out the irrational in people.

Do you understand the machinations your computer slash smart phone slash tablet goes through every time it boots up? It’s an orgy of different systems and pieces of hardware, each and every one of which has to work perfectly or all you’ll end up with is a non-functioning system and a sad state of mind.

But whether you know what’s really going on inside your computer or not, you know it’s complicated as all get out, and that Surly Men With Beards get paid a ton of money to make the magic happen.

Which subconsciously causes a lot of people to exist in a state of angst about their computers. Man, if that puppy blows up, I am screwed.

And what do humans do when exposed to complicated systems we don’t understand? That’s right. Cargo cult.

My computer stopped working after I updated it. But then I performed an update after repairing permissions on my hard drive, and it worked great. Therefore, repairing permissions must be something to do before every system update.

Cruise around the Internet a bit and you’ll find myriad statements in that vein. To be honest, it’s depressing. Because it’s nothing but magical thinking—I found something that worked, and therefore that must be The One Way. It’s post hoc, ergo propter hoc writ large, all over the Internet.

Remember, computers are nothing but logic machines. There’s nothing magical inside them. Not even a drop of unicorn tears, just logic gates, all understood by the engineers who create the machines.

So whenever some random person tells you that you must do X before you update your system or at certain intervals or whatnot, they are victims of cargo cult mentality. What you must do before installing any kind of update is what the manufacturer tells you. No more, no less. And the software manufacturers spend a lot of time and energy making sure you don’t have to sacrifice any chickens before updating.

Nevertheless, there are indeed times when things blow up. It’s frustrating, but it does happen. And at that point, the only thing sure to save your bacon is having a current backup.

Spend your time making sure you have good backups, not listening to the nattering of witch doctors on the Internet, and you’ll have a much better time.

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