One of my recent discoveries is <Permacomputing> (...
# thinking-together
One of my recent discoveries is Permacomputing (I had encountered the term before, but never looked at it closely before). And I am wondering if anyone here has explored it more than I did, and if anyone has a view on how it might matter for the future of coding. I suspect that @Kartik Agaram is aware of this because some of his projects are cited as "adjacent". At first sight, the principles and overall objectives of permacomputing resonate with me, but I see a lot of theory and little practice. While I can see how such technology could be valuable in a different universe, which may of course be tomorrow's reality, my impression is that in the real world of today, permacomputing is nerd fiction.
👋 permacomputing is on my radar and something I’ve been exploring for a couple of years. I write about it now and again. Mostly as a critique and curmudgeon, though 😬. Devine’s uxn ecosystem is looked to as the sort of canonical example of permacomputing.
The Future is fiction since it isn't real yet. Good fiction tries to get at some great truth. The first step in trying to do something new is to give up old narratives. But you can't just drop narratives like "the goal of a software is project is adoption" in isolation. You have to create a new narrative in your mind, and carefully feed it in preference to the incumbent. Some writings that have helped me do that: • Now some contrasting words. I find permacomputing too focused on performance and waste. Bruce Sterling's idea of "acting dead" matters too: So does accessibility as Eli points out. I care a lot about making programs Malleable or comprehensible to as many people as possible ( But I find permacomputing is able to coexist with these ideas better than say Collapse Computing ( The latter may be right or wrong, the future will decide. But Permacomputing feels definitely right, a good set of principles to strive for, as you said @Konrad Hinsen. It's just incomplete, and worth complementing with principles from elsewhere. And that's ok. It's a good compass. I have to go against it for short periods, but if I start going in the opposite direction for a long time I find it useful to question if I'm lost.
@Eli Mellen As a long-time (though somewhat lapsed) adept of array languages, I appreciate the connection you make to permacomputing via aesthetics. And now I realize that my emphasis on aesthetics in technical objects is something that separates me from many (most?) of the people I work with. They see technical objects from a purely functional point of view, with criteria such as efficiency and reliability.
@Kartik Agaram It's the incompleteness of the story that made me call it nerd fiction: fiction by and for nerds who focus almost exclusively on technology. There is an obvious link to the wider issues of today's societies (well expressed by your first reference), but it's no more than a motivation. A new narrative needs to address social relations and the role that technology plays within them. But I agree that permacomputing feels definitely right. Just incomplete.
I find myself simultaneously sympathetic toward the feelings that led to the creation of the movement and yet I prefer the complete opposite approach 🤷🏻‍♂️
There are a few tiny parts of permacomputing that for me point into an interesting direction with regards to systems design and design theory: • Keep it small, human-scale, the whole system fits into a single mind — how can you create wholeness, if you only ever understand parts of what you’re building from? • Design for resiliency — we hardly ever do that anywhere unless forced by circumstances, but resiliency enables variation because it keeps a little “inefficiency” which can adapt to changing environments. • And then there's the “design for descent” aspect, which for me is just part of good user experience. If you need disintegrating surroundings to make you think that's important, well, so be it. At the same time I’m very much interested in continuing to push technological boundaries and have new capabilities emerge and take advantage of them. That’s somewhat incompatible with the idea of “perma”, and that's where that ideology seems not fully formed to me, as it seems to be primarily emphasizing both permanence and flexibility at the same time. I’m not following that community deeply enough to understand if they draw a line somewhere or found another way to reconcile this.
@Jack Rusher What's the “complete opposite approach”?
@Stefan @Jack Rusher The opposite must be something like bitcoin mining 😉
@Stefan Speaking only for myself, of course, but I don't see a contradiction between permacomputing and pushing technological boundaries. I'd even argue that the three points you listed are technological boundaries. I suspect that what you mean is pushing other technological boundaries without being constrained by permacomputing principles. Which I personally think is fine as well in a research context, meaning at small scale. Permacomputing comes into play when you want to deploy new technologies on a larger scale, be it in terms of matter/energy or in terms of people impacted.
@Konrad Hinsen I'll reiterate one of my links: I think this is thinking about more than technology. At least more than most nerds 😄 It felt very congruent with Illich, at the same time fleshing out the picture and pointing out some new implications.
This is hard to compress, and crosses over a couple of political boundaries about which people I like and respect have quasi-religious feelings, so I’m hesitant, but… There are things about which we’d be in vigorous agreement. I like simplicity, of course. Surveillance capitalism sucks. I hate waste in all forms. I have shirts that are 20 years old, my socks and trousers have patches from where we’ve sewn them, &c. I share a generally green sentiment — we grow a fair bit of food every summer in a plot at an urban garden, do vermicular composting at our house, collect rain water with which to water our plants, buy ~90% of the food we don’t grow from farmers who live within 100km of us, haven’t owned a car in 25+ years, &c, &c. In my preferred radical semi-Solarpunk future, we’d see an end to fast fashion and industrial farming as practiced today, alongside an incredible reduction in the number of cars in the world — electric or otherwise. We’d see, generally speaking, greater respect paid to the ecosystems that make life possible on Earth, which is literally the only place in the universe that members of species are known to be able to live. As for disagreements: I dislike e-waste as much as anyone, but where Permacomputing philosophy would say we should stop making so many computing devices, I would say that we need cultural and legal frameworks around recycling the materials in these things. I prefer all of us to have better I/O devices, faster CPUs, more/denser storage, &c, in a series of rolling upgrades for as long as we can continue. Having lived through 70s computing, I feel absolutely no desire to return to low-color 8-bit aesthetics, bitmap fonts, and programs that fit in 64k of memory. I want the opposite! I want: • trivial massively parallel processing and huge memories • to find better materials for a wide array of engineering uses • to combine with cheap gene sequencing to facilitate precision medicine • to create new green technologies to support our huge population • as-yet-uninvented giant holographic displays with gestural control I want many things that are extremely wasteful today to be converted from atom-oriented processes to electron/photon-oriented ones, with a move from petroleum to electricity over the gamut of human activity. To do this while lifting most of the world out of poverty will require tremendous energy inputs, so I support all clean forms of energy generation, including nuclear, and would like to see a near term end to coal, &c. (There’s also quite a bit of economic/political change I’d like to see, but that tickles even deeper religious feelings, so I’ll leave it out.)
@Jack Rusher I do agree with much of that, and I find the focus on old hardware the most problematic aspect discussed on the permacomputing Web site. It's fine of course to explore the question "what can we use all that existing stuff for". Both from an ecological and an aesthetic/artistic point of view. But if you make that the central part of your hardware strategy, you shouldn't even have a Web site, just to be consistent. That's in fact one reason why I find the presented approach incomplete: it's so focused on computing that the interaction with other technology, and civilization at large, gets lost, including inevitable compromises. If more computing hardware allows avoiding waste elsewhere, it can well be a net win. What I really wish for is not permacomputing, but permatechnology. As for the "inverted culture" that @Kartik Agaram points to, it's indeed a larger perpective but again very focused on computing. How does that speculative future society deal with its daily life? Does it have information technology, which it just doesn't call computers any more?
This could also be an interesting read on the “both/and” perspective Rereading before posting this: There’s still a section missing, on how this transition would happen.