Jay Little
The Siren Song of Set It and Forget It

09/28/2022 14:27:34

The point of today's post, or diatribe if you prefer, is to push back against the notion that once you have a piece of tech integrated into a workflow, you are pretty much good to go barring any sort of critical failure. Sadly a lot of people believe this. However since the first rule of the "Set It and Forget It" club is that you don't talk about said club, you rarely hear much about it.

But the cold harsh reality of it is that most end users are card carrying members of this club. Whether their membership was acquired by virtue of the severely out of date Android smartphone they still tote around or the fact that their employer relies on a multi-decade old ERP system running on a legacy platform that hasn't seen a security update in many years isn't particularly relevant.

I briefly touched on this topic back in 2017 as part of my post "Riding the Nostalgia Wave: How Old is too Old?". However the primary focus of that post was largely on the opposing viewpoint, which is that if old software can still do the job, what's the point of the new software?

The primary factor you need to consider is whether or not the application will be exposing any sort of service over the network. If it is and it hasn't been updated in awhile then it is almost certainly a liability that you should go out of your way to avoid.

That was the most important point I made back then and frankly it absolutely still reigns supreme. The risks associated with legacy tech decrease a great deal when that legacy tech is isolated and not somehow or another hooked into the internet. Most legacy tech which is still considered useful connects to a network which itself is connected to the internet. But since end users are understandably more concerned with the day-to-day struggles associated with their actual goals / tasks and less concerned with big picture stuff, this generally flies under their radar.

The truth is I work with a lot of clients, many of which should know better, whom rely almost exclusively on legacy applications, operating systems and platforms to handle their work on a day to day basis. What makes matters worse is that these legacy tools have been integrated into workflows that they now consider to be sacrosanct despite the fact that over the last decade or two, far superior and far more efficient replacements have been developed.

But replacing these tools generally requires that end users change or adapt their workflows and they really don't want to do that as I discussed back in 2021's post "Spock Was Wrong: In Tech is is Easier to Create than to Destroy":

It seems to me that we all seem prone to falling into the trap of becoming too attached to our tech. Whether its your sacrosanct workflow that you are unwilling to modify or the fossilized tools you are using to power it, the consequence is the same: You are drifting closer to becoming overtly inflexible and thus irrelevant. This is something we all face as we grow older I think.

But this post isn't about any of that really (and yes I know it has taken a VERY long time for me to get to the point here). It's about the the fact that most people aren't even asking themselves these kinds of questions. That's because the legacy tech they are used to using is just a standard part of their day to day experience and they have been working with it for so long that most of them would probably be lost without it. They view it as being more like Thor's hammer rather than the elderly person's walker.

The biggest problem with my previous posts on this topic, is that they were primarily aimed at people who were already in a state of mind which allowed them to be asking the right kinds of questions. However they are a very slim minority. The majority of the populace doesn't know and they just don't care. As it turns out, making end users care about this is insanely hard. Making their bosses care is even more difficult once they realize how much taking it seriously is going to cost them.

The key takeaway here is that in tech there really is no such thing as "forever" or "unlimited". That applies to the tools you use as well as the data you store (God forbid anybody delete any of their older email ever). All of these things require maintenance and like every other thing created by human hands, it will all eventually have to be replaced.

When? Sadly "sooner than you want to" is the most honest answer I have to give.

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