We’re moving into our new house today, but we don’t have any furniture. I don’t think we’ll get any for a while, though, because I’m looking for a combined bed/table/chest of drawers/fridge/TV/easy chair. Then we need to get some things around the house done, so I’m trying to find someone who’s a plasterer/painter/electrician/plumber/gardener.
But unfortunately I won’t be able to find these things. Real life dictates that specialist work requires dedicated components and specialist workers. There’s only really a couple of fields where we believe that integration is a good idea.
The first is in the church; a friend was telling me the other day that when churches in Germany look for a pastor, they look for someone who is pastoral, who is a good youth worker, a good preacher, a good evangelist… one person who can do all the jobs. They call it a Eierlegendewollmilchsau - egg-laying wool milk pig. It’s unBiblical, because it denies the idea of distribution of gifts and roles in the body. Because they can’t find someone who excels at all these things, they get someone who’s just about passable at all of them. That’s what happens if you try to put all your eggs in one basket: very small eggs.
The second is technology. Go look at your mobile phone, if you’re unfortunate enough to have one. It probably has a camera in it, but it’s probably not a very good camera. It probably has a web browser in it, but it’s probably not a very good web browser. It probably has some games in it, but they’re probably not very good games. (Yes, I know there’s one model that’s an exception, but that’s one model and it’s insanely expensive - and still, if you want to take great photos, you’d probably still use a dedicated camera, not a cameraphone.)
Similarly, the Swiss Army Knife has a just-about-usable screwdriver, a just-about-usable pair of scissors, a just-about-usable tin opener, ten things you’ll never use, and a just-about-usable knife.
But I don’t know of any builder, say, who would decide that integration is better than componentization and just take a Swiss Army Knife along instead of a toolbox, for two reasons: the just-about-usableness of integrated systems doesn’t help you do professional work, and if you find that you need a Phillips screwdriver and all you have on your knife is a flatblade, you’re stuffed. One tool will do everything… until it doesn’t.
I am talking, of course, about software, and I’m currently in the middle of a big culture clash, (and I think it typifies the Microsoft/Unix culture clash) recommending a set of closely-communicating, specialised components - a toolbox - over and against those who think that we need an egg-laying wool milk pig which will solve all our problems now and forever.
It won’t. It’ll do a just-about-usable job of all the bits we think we want, and won’t do anything at all about the bits we don’t know we want just yet.
Integration is a myth; the egg-laying wool milk pig does not exist.