When The Boy Cries Wolf

It’s one word with an exclamation mark followed by a list of dated quotations from various sources running back through the past seven years. It’s the most on-point, refined, minimalistic yet communicative piece of writing I’ve seen. You don’t need to read it, you absorb the point by how long it takes to scroll through it to get to the punchline at the end. There isn’t one. Using even one more word to explain or expand upon the joke is uneconomical. “Wolf!” is concision enabled by a common understanding. It’s the eye-roll between friends where the friends are everyone who can read. Brilliant stuff. The fewer words that writer uses the better the reading gets. This has to be the sweet spot.

Here’s the thing about the story of The Boy That Cried Wolf though. We all know the story, it’s been handed down as a parable for countless generations. It goes like this: a boy is tasked with tending a flock of sheep for a village. Lonely, he cries “Wolf!” for attention. After a few times of doing this the villagers stop responding. Eventually a real wolf arrives and eats the boy and all the sheep. Moral of the story: don’t tell lies because when it’s real nobody will believe you.

Here’s an alternate perspective on that story: bored by false positives the villagers stopped investigating possible failures and as a result lost a young boy and all their sheep. If you’re a developer think of this as letting a bunch of warnings get past you in your code. One day one of those warnings will kill your application dead and you’ll say to yourself, “I really should’ve paid more attention to all that screaming”.

With regards to the security issues at hand: I’m with Gruber and believe the current issue is overblown and, yes, there’s been a constant refrain of fear mongering about this kind of thing. That said, every new potential threat should be taken seriously and steps should be devised to counter it. There was a new kit released recently that’ll make creating Mac mall-ware easier than ever. The holes it exploits should be considered grave and addressed as quickly as possible. In the story of the Boy That Cried Wolf the village ultimately paid the price for not being vigilant. The interpretation has always been to take it as a parable to improve personal behaviour but what I enjoy most about that tale is that it works both ways — there are two parties at fault: the attention seeker and those who took the cognitive shortcut of disregarding what the attention seeker was saying because they’d been wrong in the past.

As a whole, despite not being very communicative or responsive, I don’t believe Apple disregards this kind of thing. It’s my belief that one is able to write a piece titled “Wolf!because we’re still at the stage were this kind of report gets a response. Slower, perhaps, than many would prefer, but still, it is eventually addressed.

I really liked this piece at Daring Fireball but the ambiguity of the statement troubled me. Yes, these people are likely calling “Wolf!” without it really being a threat — but how much have the previous threats been diminished by the townsfolk showing up with torches when called upon?

My argument, in a nut, is this: as a customer you’re more than likely ok to ignore these dire prognostications, as one of the people who is tending the sheep this kind of thing should be on your mind and be something you aim to address quickly.

Crying “Wolf!” too much bites both ways — the crier ends up looking like an idiot until they’re right and then the whole village loses out.

Something, something, broken clock, huzzah.