Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

There are two types of people: TCP people and UDP people. (Yes, those are Internet protocols. I’m the guy who wrote software to text my wife. Of course I’m going to classify people by Internet protocols.)

TCP, the protocol, guarantees delivery. When you send something via TCP, you know it’s either arrived or it hasn’t. It’s a phone call, where the person on the other end keeps repeating, “Uh huh” to let you know that they’re listening.

UDP does not guarantee delivery. You send something off into the ether and have no idea if it eventually lands where it’s supposed. It’s the postal mail, where you drop a letter into the box, and there’s a chance that it will be waylaid somewhere, and you’ll never know.

TCP is used for reliable communication. UDP is used for mass communication. E-mail is delivered via TCP, a packet at a time, confirmed and verified. Video conferences are delivered via UDP, a torrent of data vomited willy-nilly towards its destination, and if some of it is lost along the way, well, it’s just a few frames, a hiccup that nobody will notice.

TCP people — people with the TCP personality type — consume everything in their feeds. Every tweet, every e-mail, every photo. They’re completists, and neurotic completists at that. “Mark as Read” makes them feel uncomfortable, like something that needed to be done has been left undone, without actually being able to say what it might be. The data, to a TCP person, was sent, so it must arrive. If it doesn’t, something is broken.

UDP people think TCP people are bonkers. They’ll dip in and out of whatever data happens to be sluicing towards them at any particular moment, without giving the slightest thought to what might have come before and what might come after. If it’s important, they think, it will probably come around again. Missing something, by definition, makes it unimportant.

I am a TCP person, a habit formed back when it was possible to be a TCP person and not be driven to whimpering madness by the constant deluge of text and images and video — there hardly was any video — and whatever else managed to crawl off stand-alone computers and onto the then-fledging Internet. Bandwidth, never mind the relatively few people contributing the the miasma, made it possible to keep up. You can cope with anything at 300 baud.

The world, today, many years after my habit formed, is UDP. Bandwidth doubled, and doubled again, and doubled again and again and again and again. The Internet was flooded with literally billions of people. More data has swung around the planet in the last week than in all of prior history combined. (I just made that up. But you believed it for a second, didn’t you?) There’s just too much, and if you’re intent on crawling through the endless sand of this particular beach, it’s a lot easier not to have to mark every grain as “Done”.

And so people are becoming UDP as well. People wander into and out of their Twitter stream, produced by the N-thousand people they follow, as time allows. They let Gmail decide which messages are important enough to highlight. They happily allow a thousand-thousand posts and tweets and pictures to sail by, without the slightest concern that they might have enjoyed any of them, because they know there’s a thousand-thousand times as much coming over the spillway.

UDP people are right: TCP like me are bonkers. We maintain a tradition in the complete absence of the circumstance that allowed that tradition to form. When the land we stand on finally sinks below the relentlessly rising tide, it’s the people who have adapted, transformed, evolved who will survive. The only place for TCP people in the post-diluvian world will be on the small outcroppings of rock that poke above the endless, endless sea, and the only approach TCP people will be able to take is to pretend that the vast deep that surrounds them doesn’t exist. The world is UDP, and the people who live in it need to be as well.

But it would have been nice if anybody had actually seen this post.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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