Volume 25, Number 1


Ken Poyner

Everyone knows just where to go. The addresses exist out there on the wireless background. All you have to do is tap into a radiant source and pick, from the otherwise utilitarian data stream, an embedded rogue advertisement package for a dumb-down salon. There is no secret or skill involved at all. They don’t even hide the advertisement packets all that well. I am going to one such salon now.

Once I’m settled in, I plan to plug in to the city electric for safety, just in case I lose track and cut my own battery controls. Sometimes, when in dumb-down state, you can do just about anything: even pull an unanticipated shut down. There are always risks. A responsible machine weighs those risks before he lets the process start, and takes for execution the more prudent precautions. Risk leads to malfunction leads to inefficiency leads to upgrade. Or even scrapping.

But it is worth it. Drop off half of your core memory, restrict your swap file size—and the world around you necessarily goes simple. With a smaller instruction set and less room to run it in, there is simply less you can do; your contingency plans get less and less complex and more manageable, if less effective. You get less thrash when all the possibilities you stuff into background are limited to only those you can understand with less than usual random access memory—with maybe a processor kicked back in speed, and one parallel bus for a while turned dark.

Interrupts have fewer options. You can get to the end of your potential responses sooner, and without having to stack subtle shades of difference. You can execute with surer conviction, have fewer abandoned options to manually erase.

After you have wandered about your assigned tasks with extended memory, top of the line processors laid out in bus-busting arrays—with a swap file that can hold everything you can execute at any one time—it is strangely enrolling to be able to shut some of those higher functions down and bask for a while in more limited potential. Being simple makes the world simple. Doubt is a function made in the programmatic existence of multiple valid pathways: shut down a number of pathways, and certainty evolves. You can close a beaconing subroutine, and free up enough of yourself to happily bat ones and zeros uselessly back and forth in the pleasant emptiness of an idle execution register.

After a session of dumb, I believe you retain some of the certainty gained there. You feel better grounded and less suspicious of yourself, less trusting of diagnostics that indicate the inconvenient: as though not all the dumb went away when you reconstituted yourself. Obviously, I think it is worth the time.

In a biological unit, it is call going stupid. It provides them as much relief from their decision clutter as it does us from our competing interrupt response subroutines.

I can see nothing wrong with it in a salon. Take a few precautions, and there will be no permanent damage. At the end of a session a dumbed-down machine reconnects its abandoned memory to the main bus, then resets itself to force a reload of the original configuration and all its processor locations, its original swap file size and its wealth of DMA space. It runs a brief diagnostic, and all is well again. It comes back to the complicated world with a few gigabytes of hard storage it can reload to see how easy things were in a simple world, when it had so little resources it could ignore the more difficult options: when it could be as certain in its instruction set selections as though available branches were only a one to one match.

But I have heard about some machines that are, now and again, dumbing-down outside of a salon. They hit upon an idle moment, a lull in traffic: and shut down higher processors, go stock stupid for a pleasant spurt of cycles or so. I do not know if they care that any demanded reaction to emergent stimuli, in such a state, would be limited: predictable and possibly ineffective. Sometimes I suspect that such an outcome might be the allure of so casually slipping into that well of inability. It is so much easier to compensate for a computable potential of fifty possible outcomes, than it is to do so for multiple arrays each of five thousand possible outcomes.

Funny thing, though: I only see the worth of dumbing-down when I am functioning to full factory specifications. When in a stupid state, that stupidity seems normal, standard and a reflection of one’s full operating potential. You just don’t see an option. And so you idle, happily. And then, at the end of the bliss, you come back; and with a core processor itch that I think could be called jealousy.