The next big thing can be just as simple as the last one

Copy-paste is the sliced bread of software engineering. Think this over for a second.

Nothing has done as much good for software engineering as the ability to copy and paste text. No tutorial or fancy wizard. No object-oriented programming with its thousands of man years of research and development. No agile, waterfall, or agile waterfall development cycle. No drag-and-drop GUI software development tools or any other thingamajig created in the last 20 years.

None of them can beat click, drag your mouse across the text you want to copy, click copy, click where you want to paste it and paste. I guess that makes ASCII character string the most universal data structure ever and copy-paste the most fundamental operation in all of software engineering. But more importantly, copy-paste demonstrates that simple things can have profound and lasting impact.

It seems the odds are against us.  After all the great inventions have been getting more complex over time, rendering them incomprehensible to all but a few highly-trained experts. The wheel, the combustion engine, the transistor, the Internet. They all form a chain of ever-increasing complexity and sophistication, requiring further and further knowledge from those capable of conceiving them.

What’s strange about copy-paste is that it exists amidst staggering complexity of hardware architectures, operating systems, frameworks and graphical user interfaces. It’s as if all this improbable technology is creating new dimensions for simple ideas to emerge and give rise to secondary arcs of accelerating progress.

Copy-paste is a proof (to those willing to pay attention) that power and accessibility of an idea don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, the ever-increasing pace of technological innovation creates more opportunities for these profound yet simple ideas to be stumbled upon by regular folks with no extraordinary  talents or intellectual capacity to win Noble prizes.

So there you have it: the next big thing can be just as simple as the last one.


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