Burdensome Exigences

October 13th, 2021 by Diana Coman

~ Bitcoin and computing are these relentlessly innovating fields that continuously reinvent themselves so thoroughly and so quickly that they just about caught up with a description by I. L. Caragiale of very similar phenomena from 1897. The part loosely translated by me below is from "Exigente grele". ~

The awful role of the two cent (or less!) customers is that of torturers of small businesses. Just watch them carping about any and all possible details! The less such customers understand of something, the more authoritatively they'll talk about it. The less basis there is to their complaints, the more unmovable and unreasonable they'll be about them. Here's for instance how their feedback reads: some want it all to be a bit more like this while others want exactly the opposite, so that it's all a bit more like that; some consider to be spurious exactly the parts that others consider to be lacking; what some praise as qualities, others denounce as horrible defects and the other way around. In a nutshell, there are just as many voices clamoring as there are two-cent users around and, naturally, just as many demands and exigences being heaped upon the unfortunate small business. Actually, there's even more than that: one and the same such user will like it one way today, another way tomorrow and each and every following day in yet a different way.

In more mature markets that have evolved their requirements gradually and naturally over the years, the above phenomenon is, of course, significantly tamer and less of a problem. It is however a huge problem in newly created markets1, where there's a deluge and haphazard mix of anything and anyone, without any commonality of taste, without unity of tradition or of public requirements and without any continuity, where everything is fleeting, always and forever to be changed, be it manners, laws, skills or approaches, making the whole thing quite similar in this respect to some inferior species that shed from time to time their own skin from the top of the snout to the tip of the tail.

In a well established market, a small business can learn exactly what it needs to provide for its target customers and it can also learn in depth what its loyal customers require and why. As a result, it can match its loyal customers' requirements very closely and even go one step further, with new offerings that match the customers' known taste and nature. But in a newly sprung market with its eternally provisional state, not even God himself can truly know how to satisfy the customers. If you offer a command line interface to a smartphone user2, scripting and automation to a data analyst and running their own node to someone interested in bitcoin, you'll find in short order that no matter how good these items may be, all your customers will find fault with them because ... they don't have any use for them. The smartphone user doesn't need something that enables him to gradually improve his ability to do something useful as he's quite used to not doing anything useful at all anyway; what he needs is a shinier set of buttons to adorn with them his idle clicking; the data analyst wants an excel spreadsheet and the one interested in bitcoin wants to keep bitcoin in his paypal account... But don't you dare to ignore progress as well as the breathtaking pace of innovation and try to offer the next day what you saw they wanted yesterday! That won't do at all: the smartphone user now wants a voice activated interface, the data analyst wants expert-tagged learning datasets and the person interested in bitcoin now wants to start their own bitcoin exchange.

How very few people there are in the world, who understand first clearly what they require, know then exactly what to ask for and are able to value correctly as well what they obtain! And I don't doubt that you are one of these few people, too, my dear reader.

And the original text of Caragiale, in Romanian:

Acesta este rolul teribil al musteriului mic: sa tortureze pe micul debitant... Si sa vezi critica de amanunte! atat mai multa autoritate cu cat mai putina pricepere, atat mai multa imperturbabilitate cu cat mai putina siguranta. Musteriii vor: unul sa fie lucrul colea mai asa, altul, din contra, dincoace mai aminterea; pentru unii sunt prisoase tocmai acolo unde altii constata lipsuri; calitati se par unuia defectele ce izbesc pe altul si de-a-ndaratele. In fine, cati musterii, atatea capete si tot atatea, fireste, pretentii si exigente. Ba mai mult: unuia si aceluiasi singur azi ii place asa, maine aminterea, si-n fiecare zi altfel.

Se-ntelege ca intr-un targ cu obiceiuri statornice de pe vremuri, cu traditiuni de autoritate, cu deprinderi de gust dezvoltat incet-incet si normal, acest fenomen, cu toata diversitatea capetelor, va fi mai putin batatr la ochi decat intr-un targ de curand ridicat, cum sunt cele americane si altele. Aci au navalit si navalesc pe apucate stransura si adunatura, fara egala deprindere de gust, fara continuitate si unitate de traditie si de nevoi publice, si care schimba, la fiecare cativa ani, si moravuri, si legi, si deprinderi, si costume, ca si unele spete inferioare care leapada la zastimpuri pielea din varful botului pana-n sfarcul coadii.

In targul de vremi statornicit, micul debitant stie ce marfa cauta, stie ce trebuie musteriului cunoscut si credincios: ba ii merge chiar inaintea navoilor; chiar i le provoaca, cunoscandu-i firea si gustul. Dar intr-un targ improvizat, in vecinic provizorat, Dumnezeu mai stie cum sa multumesti pe musterii. Dai primitivului in pielea goala o buna flanela, vanatorului preistoric o pusca si porcarului margaritare: o fi buna marfa dumitale, dar musteriii ii gasesc cusururi, deoarece... nu le trebuie. Primitivului nu-i trebuie caldura pe spinare si pe pantece, pielea lui e-nvatata cu de toate; el are nevoie de zorzoane poleite, sa si le puna-n capul netesalat; vanatorului ii trebuie un tomahawk, iar porcarului porumb pentru vitele de-acasa... Dar ia sa nu bagi de seama la vertiginosul mers al progresului! Ia poftim de le da a doua zi aceea ce ai vazut ca le trebuia ieri. As! Primitivul vrea acum camasi de matase, vanatorul o carabina ghintuita cu repetitie si porcarul briliante.

Ce putini sunt aceia care, intelegand ce le trebuie, stiu ce marfa sa ceara si sunt in stare sa o pretuiasca! Si nu ma-ndoiesc ca dintre acei putini esti si dumneata, cititorule.

  1. the original text identifies "American as well as other markets" as "newly created" but meanwhile the scope expanded so much that nationality has very little to do with it at all (translator's note). 

  2. I might have slightly adapted this part to keep in step with the breathtaking and revolutionary pace of progress that is so dear and unique to the modern computing domain in general and the even more novel bitcoin area especially. For the record, here's the more direct translation of the original text, as well: "If you offer a woolen vest to the naked primitive, a rifle to the prehistoric hunter and pearls to the swineherd, you'll find in short order that no matter how good these items may be, all your customers will find fault with them because ... they don't have any use for them. The primitive doesn't need something to keep his chest and stomach warm, as his own skin is quite accustomed to everything, as it is; what he wants instead is a pile of shiny beads to adorn his unkempt self; the hunter wants a tomahawk and the swineherd wants corn for the cattle back home... But don't you dare to ignore the breathtaking pace of progress and offer the next day what you saw they wanted yesterday! That won't do at all: the primitive now wants silk shirts, the hunter wants a repeating, bolt action rifle and the swineherd wants diamonds." 

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5 Responses to “Burdensome Exigences”

  1. hanbot says:

    Well what I wanted was a good read and got it, so for my part I'm well satisfied (though with an eye on Caragiale's wink to the reader, lest time and the unfortunate if omnipresent social substrate churn me into one of those expectant bums by now so ubiquitous it's hard to summon the energy to identify them).

  2. Diana Coman says:

    Glad to hear that it made a good read and thanks for the link that fits indeed quite well to illustrate the "smartphone users" notion.

    The link made me notice also that the reference for that request for expert-tagged learning datasets is probably entirely opaque and obscure to the reader as the most direct & discussed real-life example of it (from the time of the diff regrind) has remained private so far. I could have sworn that specific bit ended up published somewhere but at least so far I can't find it at all so I'll leave this note here more of a reminder to link it if/when I get perhaps around to publishing that conversation too.

  3. Diana Coman says:

    Updated with a few links to the otherwise plentiful context available.

  4. [...] domination, disrupting all forms of socialism down to the Wormatiense roots, more and more of the burdensome exigences of the two cent class just wants to join the party. Being what they are, they either don't want to [...]

  5. [...] instead of in some embarrassingly named "Hooligans" village on the county border like that unruly Caragiale1. He won an international prize for his poetry and he didn't write anything biting about the town [...]

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