Michael S. Manley

Michael S. Manley

What I'm thinking about today: constraints and accountability

On a recent episode of ComicLab, Jake Parker of Inktober.com suggested that constraints and accountability make for better art. The former I have long agreed with, which is why I prefer writing flash (non)fiction to traditional stories now. The latter I had not considered as much, but thinking about it, I do realize I write better work with a deadline in place or a group expecting to see the work, or preferably both.

I suspect this is also true for writing software. In the past, constraints would have provided some of the drive behind the Amiga demoscene, QRP radio operation, circuit bending hacks. Today, we play Perl Golf, or run JS1k competitions.

Without constraints and accountability, I think we risk indulgent art. I am certain we risk indulgent programming. You hold in your pocket more computing power than the whole planet used in WWII, and yet the applications on that device and the services they talk to are more a collection of bloated practices than elegance or correctness. In art, or at least in the art I’m most familiar with, we see doorstop-sized tomes of fantasy retreads, or endless series of comfortable episodic mind candy.

Constraints and accountablility could be read as code words for the threats of scarcity and violence. I do like my episodic mind candy, and I do use my phone and tablet and laptop as much as any other 21st century screen junkie. I wouldn’t want to enforce constraint for moral reasons. I would not want accountability in these fields to come with the threat of deprivation of any sort.

But I do wonder what better practice can arise from the intentional, explicit identification and application of constraints, and the identification and consideration of accountability in both writing and programming.