Why is everyone talking about JavaScript fatigue?

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To answer this question, let’s start by defining what exactly JavaScript fatigue is. JavaScript fatigue is best described as viewing the onslaught of new JavaScript tools, frameworks or packages as a relentless stream of shaggy dog stories instead of an endless stream of creativity and enhanced productivity. I must admit, I myself have a serious case of JavaScript fatigue.

Anyone who is plugged into the tech world knows that JavaScript has been having a moment since the release of Node.js in 2009. Obviously, JavaScript was not new in 2009. Its monopoly on web scripting had already made it an old hand in the development world, but with the advent of Node.js, JavaScript began to creep out of web browsers into desktop applications and mobile apps. Pretty soon there was the MEAN stack, a web app architecture that allows for the developer to run a web app end-to-end with only JavaScript, and tools like PhoneGap allowing developers to create mobile apps with good old fashioned HTML, CSS and, you guessed it, JavaScript.

I think JavaScript fatigue asks the question, should we really be excited about the emergence of ‘new’ tech based on or built for a scripting language that has been in use for almost 30 years?

How did JavaScript fatigue happen?

Before I answer the title question, let’s discuss how this happened. Obviously, just the creation/emergence of Node.js cannot be considered the complete explanation of JavaScript fatigue. But, when you consider that JavaScript happens to be a relatively ‘easy’ language, and the language that many people start their development journeys with, a new platform that extended the functionality of such a language (Node.js) easily became a catalyst for the JavaScript wave that has been rolling for the last few years. So, the really simple answer is that JavaScript is easy, so a bunch of people are using it.


But who cares? Why is it that a bunch of people using a language that most of us already know is a bad thing? To me that sounds a lot like a good thing. The reason this is problematic actually has nothing to do with JavaScript. There is a difference between using a common language because it is productively advantageous and using a common language because of laziness. Many developers are guilty of the latter. And when a developer is lazy about one thing, they’re probably lazy about all the other things as well.

Is it fair to blame JavaScript?

So why are there so many lazily created frameworks, APIs, web apps and desktop applications created in JavaScript? Is it really fair to blame the language? No it is not fair. People are not really fed up with JavaScript, they’re fed up with lazy developers, and that is nothing new. Outside of literal laziness in the writing of JS code, there is a laziness based around picking the tools to solve problems. I’ve heard it said that web development or any development for that matter is really not about development tools or process, it’s about the results. Regular people don’t care what technologies Amazon uses on their website, while everybody cares about using Amazon to buy things or stream videos.

There has been a lot of use of JavaScript for the sake of using JavaScript. This is probably the most specific reason people are talking about JavaScript fatigue. When hammering a nail into a board, a carpenter doesn’t choose a screwdriver because the screwdriver is the newest tool in their toolbox, they choose a hammer, because it’s the right tool. Sure, you could use the handle of the screwdriver to bang in that nail, and it would basically work, and then you would get to use your new tool. This is clearly a stupid way to operate. Unfortunately, many of the choices made in the development world today are centered on finding the newest JavaScript tool to solve a problem instead of finding the best tool to solve a problem. If developers eat up new tools like candy, other developers are going to keep creating them. This is the downward spiral we find ourselves in.

Using technology to solve problems

So, why is everyone talking about JavaScript fatigue? Because it is a real problem, and it’s getting real annoying. As has been the case before, many developers have become Narcissus, admiring their code in the reflective pool of the Internet, until they turn to stone. Let’s keep an eye on the prize: using technology to solve problems. If JavaScript is used in this way, nobody would have any qualms with the current JavaScript renaissance. It’s when we start developing for the sake of developing that things get a little weird.

Erik Kappelman wears many hats including blogger, developer, data consultant, economist, and transportation planner. He lives in Helena, Montana and works for the Department of Transportation as a transportation demand modeler.

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