Theory and Practice

by rthieme on May 14, 1998

‘In theory, theory and practice are the same thing, but in practice, they’re different.’

That insight has been attributed to so many people that, like some of the sayings of Confucius or Yogi Berra, we’ll never know who said it first.

Nor does the author matter. The notion that there is an “author” who “owns” a “work” was invented by the printing press. The short-lived era dominated by that medium is already part of the equally short-lived domain we once called “history.”

But I digress. In fact, my thinking always seems to digress, one way or another, and so does the way a society, culture or network grows organically into something unthinkably complex. Those who write the rules under the old rubrics find themselves holding reins attached to imaginary horses.

“This isn’t the way it was supposed to work!”  was just said – again – after SBC initiated a takeover of Ameritech, a competing Baby Bell. The Telecom Act was supposed to result in more competition, lower prices, and better customer service. In theory.

Oh, beware The Theory of Everything that leaves no room for the messiness of The Way Things Are!

The Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) is currently embedding ubiquitous surveillance in smart highways in the name of efficiency. The pioneers of Internet2 are building IPv6, a smart protocol to guarantee end-to-end Quality of Service so we can work in immersive real-time 3D virtual collaboratories knitted to our Body Nets so tightly that we can’t tell the Weaver from the Web.

OK, that’s where the horse has to run. But don’t forget that the dumb network might be smarter than the smart one and The Way Things Are has a way of reminding us that what is, is and what isn’t, isn’t. At least in theory. And – so far – in practice.

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