Shaving with a new razor is wonderful. I found that out this spring. I was on vacation and had no razor, so I bought a new one. I could not believe how easy it was to shave — fun, even. And that’s when I found out my old razor was dull.
What struck me is that I never noticed that my razor was dull. The gradual wear with every use was imperceptible, until I tried a better tool.
Gradual degradation is all around us. It’s well understood that degradation is a default in the physical world. Iron rusts, things experience “wear and tear,” and nothing lasts like it used to.
Degradation happens in the digital world too.
You might think that, in the digital world, everything would retain a baseline, or even get better by default. We have Moore’s Law, after all. And there are certainly digital things that tend to get better, like Internet speeds (hello FiOs).
But there are also common ways that digital things can degrade. In the shipping-new-features department:
- User interfaces can become cluttered
- Documentation can go out-of-date
- Performance can drop
And in the not-staying-current department:
- Missing features can become dealbreakers
- Performance perception can drop, even if it hasn’t changed
- Tools can simply stop working
And that’s just a few examples.
Keeping digital tools sharp requires attending to the tool as a whole, and not merely to a single addition or change. Tiny degradations are almost imperceptible, but they add up.
And at the end of the day, it’s easy to see that a tool is dull if contrasted to a sharp one.