The Atomic Age and The Information Age

I was going to do a post reviewing the curriculum I was educated on, because there is a clear mismatch in how much time was spent on different kinds of math in school versus how much time I spend doing the different kinds of mathematics in an actively engaged way. I don’t know if anyone else of my generation has had this experience, but:

  1. I spend little time working out mathematical calculations. If I need to do a calculation and my head does not quickly offer an answer, there are any number of tools available to do the calculation for me. This kind of math dominated my schooling up through the end of high school, with the exception of the year spent on geometry.
  2. I spend a lot of time working on problems involving set theory, graph theory, and relational algebra. Working on these problems is at the core of my professional life. Even after encountering these kinds of math at the University level, they were always presented as having “little practical application” despite Oracle and Larry Ellison’s yacht fleet having been a thing in the 1990’s well before my 2004 high school graduation.

Now, the second kind of mathematics being discussed here does not have a hard dependency on the first. The basics of set theory do not depend on many of the first kind. There isn’t a hard dependency on any complex calculative mathematics in Cantor’s diagonal argument against the countability of real (as opposed to rational) numbers. Not in the way that even the most simple appearing matters of statistics of probability have numerous hard dependencies in calculus and trigonometry.

The advance of technology plays a part, but I suspect a major driver of this discrepancy is the nature of the underlying conflict of the time. This differs between the Atomic Age and our present Information Age.

First let us define what I mean by Atomic Age and the Information Age:

  • The atomic age is defined by its competitions at extremes of power. Ever bigger bombs and rockets. This competition however reached a stalemate in 1963 when the Cuban missile crisis’s resolution avoided a nuclear war. We establish the stalemate here rather that at any earlier point due to US plans for a nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union which the Cuban missile crisis effectively ended. The assumption that a US first strike could be done without any meaningful retaliation appeared to be a driving one in US Government decision making at that time according to the historical record.
  • The conflicts of the Information Age concern efficiency, are ongoing, and very much active. Defining technologies are computing machines, relational databases, and communications networks. The state actors who were defining competitors in the Atomic age remain actors, but commercial actors play a far more substantial role than in the Atomic Age conflict.
  • The Atomic Age stalemate persists in the background, but innovations over the course of the Information age have largely decoupled productivity from head count in a growing number of areas. Let us consider the economics of doing math, then and now. Many kinds of formerly expensive operations that required human intervention are increasingly cheap when outsourced to machines. The human role in the value chain is in directing the kinds of calculations, and in selecting sane values upon which to perform the calculations.

Despite these definitions, activities such as industry and agriculture with earlier introductions retain their importance though innovations will frequently affect practice in these areas.

The fact of the matter is that computers have been around long enough that the C programming language has become an analogue of Church Latin, and the now routine practice of writing and optimizing SQL queries is a real world application of mathematics that have in my lived experience been dismissed as lacking practical applications in my times as a student.

Anyways, we have to establish some kind of framework for evaluating outcomes for success and failure, so overall quality of life with respect to our own lives is the rule. By this criteria a substantial portion of my generation has regrets when it comes to choosing their field of study. Despite being born with near optimum timing to take advantage of rather profoundly changing trends, there was a widespread lack of preparation to do so among members of my age cohort. Then again compare perception of “web design” and “user interface” as beginner friendly pursuits versus “data analysis” despite mastery of the later offering more leverage on practical problems.

I suspect an overloaded emphasis on statistics as intrinsically meaningful absent corresponding context is a cultural phenomenon that contributes substantially to the ills of the era, but variations of this and the policy implications thereof have been lamented in depth beginning no later than Greece’s classical era. By this point we have well opened up the critique as to whether the cost of acquiring all of the references used so far in writing this is justified by the value of the resulting communication. Is there value in performing mechanical critiques of the system when said critiques are unlikely to have any substantive impact on the system?

Aside from serving as a stress relieving outlet, this has actually turned into an employable skill.

You see, there is now a technology called Kubernetes. When you operate Kubernetes, your interactions with Kubernetes are declarative. Your declarations are implemented by automation that Kubernetes provides. You simply have to give Kubernetes partial object definitions that correspond to the state you would like Kubernetes to maintain for you. Keeping stateless applications online is simple. Presenting stateful applications as a service is possible though it comes with caveats that require attention. This sounds very convenient.

Digging deeper into implementation of the automation and debugging, Kubernetes begins to pattern match Deleuze and Guattari in their writing on schizoanalysis and the building of rhizomes through complexification. It follows that competent Kubernetes administration in large part requires avoiding coarse errors in navigation as a primary concern, especially in data bearing situations. It honestly appears to be a safety critical position that brings mental health hazards, not unlike being an airline pilot or nuclear reactor operator beings physical health hazards.

Anyways, even with world events suggesting a build towards the possibility of a violent challenge to the Atomic age’s still open stalemate, I do wonder how the in-demand skills of today will carry into what follows.

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