The quickest way to transport a petabyte of data (that's 1,000 terabytes) from Boston to LA isn't to upload it to Dropbox and email someone a download link. It's just too much data.

The quickest way is to copy it to a bunch of hard drives, drop them in a physical box, and ship them on a plane.

This is known as sneakernet. Sometimes, the old way of doing things is best.

This a useful heuristic for exploring the solution to any problem. Progress often falls into one of two categories: An old solution to a new problem, as in our sneakernet example, or a new solution to an old problem.

The automobile was a new solution (cars!) to an old problem (getting from point A to point B quickly). But new solutions bring new problems. With cars came air and noise pollution, fatal injuries from crashes, and more.

So in response, we created mufflers, added seatbelts and airbags, and otherwise continued to innovate to minimize the downsides of this new solution.

And so the cycle of progress continues.


Weekly thoughts on creating systems to sustainably grow your impact on the world.
Email address