World in perpetual beta

But we yearn “the old normal”

The pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 is accelerating worldwide. Climate changes are pronounced even more in recent years. We face an unprecedented surge in new technologies.

Yet we yearn the old normal. The normal that we got used to over the last couple of decades. The normal where change is evolutionary. The normal where we cheered up “revolutions” as long as they didn’t question the status quo.

Perpetual beta (sometimes called an endless beta) is a term from software engineering. It is used to describe a system where new features are released without full tests. Systems might crash or be unstable. However, users can influence early design decisions and help drive development forward, as Tim O’Reilly wrote over a decade ago:

Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time.

Perpetual beta describes the organizational changes adopted by multiple companies to address the complexity of the modern market. It was an essential element of an attitude enabling survival in chaos on a large scale.

And the chaos is something that we will face on an unprecedented scale. In Umair Haque’s words:

This last year hasn’t been an anomaly. It’s a tiny taste of the future. Our future. The next three to five decades are going to be a lot like the last twelve months: one disaster, one calamity, after the next, mounting, coming faster and swifter and harder not just than we can handle — but than we even thought possible. Taken by surprise, the result is that we’re left paralyzed, stunned, shocked.

The world in our eyes turns from the mature, predictable system into co-generated beta-version of an uncertain future. Suddenly it’s our full responsibility, not some distant architects, to decide on its features. Yet, we yearn the old normal.

The world started the exhibit bugs that stem from our not-so-well-thought-through actions. Independently introduced features began to collide. Instead of fixing the errors, we want to roll back the code changes. We yearn the old normal.

The world has just turned into a perpetual beta. But we yearn the old normal, life on autopilot of someone else’s navigation script.