Nik Kantar

Friday, September 17, 2021
2 min read

Simple, Easy, Complex, Difficult

Some language nuance.

Some things in life are simple but not easy, while others are easy but not simple. What’s the difference? Let’s look at some examples.

One very relevant to me is that I’d like to ride my bicycle more, which is primarily challenged by the comfort of my bed in the morning. Accomplishing this is simple—I just need to hop on the bicycle and go. However, actually following through is not easy—my bed is really comfortable.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is cleaning and lubricating my motorcycle chain. It’s a frustratingly complex task for an apartment dweller—I have to gather everything (light, keys, gloves, paper towels, cardboard, scrubber, cleaner, lube, etc.), bring it three floors down and halfway through the shared garage to my parking spot, move the motorcycle into a more convenient position, set things up, clean and lube the chain, clean up the inevitable mess, bring everything back upstairs, and put it where it belongs…with a near 100% chance of forgetting something and having to make an extra trip. But the actual work involved is pretty easy—gathering things, walking, cleaning and lubing the chain, and going back upstairs are all rather insignificant tasks.

Of course, there are plenty of things that are both simple and easy—e.g., brushing teeth—and neither—e.g., building distributed systems.

The antonyms for “simple” and “easy” are “complex” and “difficult”, respectively. Thus, one could say that I find riding my bicycle more often simple yet difficult, while I think of motorcycle chain maintenance as complex but easy.

I’m really glad we cleared that up.

Tags: philosophy

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