The Taste for Complexity

Once, I reveled in complexity. I studied the baroque rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and other complicated games. I knew the C programming language back-to-front: I delighted in the stringizing and token-pasting operators (# and ##) and gloried in the perversity of C’s declaration syntax. When I encountered a new system, whether it was a VCR, programming language, game, or what have you, I began by reading the manual cover to cover. Browsing Fidonet (similar to usenet) I thought how wonderful it would be to be overwhelmed by cascades of information.

I should be careful what I wish for.

One day I realized I had changed. I had stopped reading the manuals first, or at all. When I had to learn something new, I started by doing, not studying. I browsed through an AD&D rulebook and wondered why anyone ever put up with the mess. I became a fan of Piet Mondrian.

It could just be fashion; the nineties saw a resurgence of simplicity in design. It could be a matter of maturity. Maybe the brain fills up as we get older. Maybe there comes a point where we’ve seen it all before. Maybe life becomes busier and time becomes shorter and we haven’t the time or the patience. Maybe it’s all a matter of taste.

Now I am finding I like a little complexity after all. Maybe Mondrian’s look is just a little too simple (though before he died he started to jazz things up). It all reminds me of a quote I clipped from the Globe years ago:

When I was very young, I was disgracefully intolerant but when I passed the thirty mark I prided myself on having learned the beautiful lesson that all things were good, and equally good. That, however, was really laziness. Now, thank goodness, I’ve sorted out what matters and what doesn’t. And I’m beginning to be intolerant again.

- G.B. Stern

2004-05-04

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