Beauty is more important in computing than anywhere else in technology....

Beauty is important in engineering terms because software is so complicated. Complexity makes programs hard to build and potentially hard to use; beauty is the ultimate defense against complexity. Beauty is our most reliable guide, also, to achieving software's ultimate goal: to break free of the computer, to break free conceptually. Software is stuff unlike any other. Cyberspace is unlike any physical space. The gravity that holds the imagination back as we cope with these strange new items is the computer itself, the old-fashioned physical machine. Software's goal is to escape this gravity field, and every key step in software history has been a step away from the computer, toward forgetting about the machine and its physical structure and limitations -- forgetting that it can hold only so many bytes, that its memory is made of fixed-size cells, that you refer to each cell by a numerical address. Software needn't accept those rules and limitations. But as we throw off the limits, what guides us? How do we know where to head? Beauty is the best guide we have.

David Gelernter,
from Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology
(Basic Books, 1998)


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From Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Technology, copyright © 1998 by David Gelernter. Published by Basic Books, a subsidiary of Perseus Books, L.L.C.