Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Random Thoughts

I have some notes in my agenda. Before I can turn the page in good conscience I have to record them somewhere where I can find them...

Railroads vs. Cathedrals

Having recently written a paper about cathedrals and documentary practices, big projects are still on my mind. Cathedrals were perhaps the largest construction projects of the mediaeval era. They required intense planning, commitment, and labour. The modern era, however, was established by a different technology: railroads. It would be interesting to compare these two types of projects. Certain similarities are self-evident in that they're both huge projects involving lots of labour and administration. The differences are just as evident. Cathedrals were constructed in one location while railroads were constructed across a massive geographic territory. Both types of projects also generated different types of innovations. Cathedrals generated organized labour and guilds. Railroads developed accounting systems, venture capital, and distributed bureacracy.

Social Construction of DSL

I've been reading up on the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT; Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch 1987). An important consideration of SCOT is that technolgy is determined by a number of factors including the social context of innovations. This context is determined by various actors--not just the inventor or engineer--and each actor contributes to the technology. While I was reading up on this topic while waiting in a friend's office, someone came in and exclaimed: "The network's down again! I get more done at home on my DSL line!" So what exactly does DSL (and broadband) represent and how are we using it. It's obvious that working from home because of the reliability of DSL is a somehow more significant interpretation of the technology than just streaming music or downloading broadband videos.

Open Source and Cathedral Building

The difference between commercial and open source software development has been famously compared to the difference between a cathedral and a bazaar (CatB). In some ways, however, I find the cathedral to be a very good description of the open source movement--not the institution represented by the cathedral but rather the process of building it. Cathedrals were built largely without central plans and much of the construction process was grounded in social practice rather than in formalized documentation.

Enough thoughts. Back to work.


Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T. P., & Pinch, T. J. (1987). The Social construction of technological systems : new directions in the sociology and history of technology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


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