the optimism of modernists

Lorin Hochstein has a great, short post about the distinction between modernism and post-modernism, and the connection to software engineering. In short, modernists believe that the world is turbulent and dynamic, and can be constantly remade anew; while post-modernists believe that “we can never cast off our history and start from scratch.” He writes…

We software engineers are modernists at heart. We see the legacy systems in our organizations and believe that, when we have the opportunity to work on replacement systems, we will remake our little corner of the world anew. Alas, on this point, the post-modernists were right. While we can change our systems, even replace subsystems wholesale, we can never fully escape the past. We ignore the history of the system at our peril.

Thought experiment: define “our organizations” in the paragraph above at different scales: individuals, teams, teams of teams, companies, industries, states, nations, the planet. Where can you escape the past? Where must you have the modernist’s optimism to believe you can?



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