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Of waterfalls and communication culture

I got involved with open-source software before I learnt about software development in a university course. Naturally, when my profs tried to teach the waterfall model to me, I couldn't take them too seriously back then. After all, requirements specification → design → implementation → verification → maintenance is not really in line with the principle to release early, release often. Furthermore, since water cannot flow uphill, the waterfall model fails to represent development cycles, as they naturally appear, even in behemoth, ancient software nightmares.

And yet, when embarking on a new project, I do tend to find myself first thinking about the big picture, instead of churning out the code. I am certainly not the best coder out there, and it might well be that I could benefit from learning to break down problems to get an earlier start on the implementation of components.

However, I maintain that avoiding the waterfalls and engaging directly in extreme programming, agile software development, or pair-based approaches right away is not the answer.

Rather, the best approach should probably involve a certain level of conceptualisation before code is produced. I am a big fan of test-driven development, and I like the scrum method for the very reason that it involves talking and challenging ideas (although I wouldn't follow the method down to the book).

I like to think about trickles in the mountains where water droplets joyfully jump around.

* * *

When Glyn Moody spoke in his LCA2010 keynote about challenges we (as in society) face, and how open-source seems to have many answers, he dropped the following gem, which spoke right to my heart:

Twitter is the "release early, release often" principle applied to thinking.

By this simile, journal articles are produced according to the waterfall model. This may well be why they are usually outdated at the time of publication. Microblogging (like Twitter), on the other hand, is primarily used to publish stuff before it's ready, and which would never be published otherwise.

With journals on one end, and microblogging on the other, I think the epiphany is found in between — as with software development: web logs — web applications that allow for easy publishing by anyone (which is a different problem not to be discussed here).

Since articles on those platforms usually have at least a title and a body, they require just a little bit more thought than 140 characters of contracted brain farts, spilled into the world faster than it takes one to stand up, stretch, and sit down again.

* * *

Microblogging seems to be in line with where we're heading: more information, more self-promotion, more access to more people, and all that with lower barriers of entry. It's hard to argue against a trend, but I think we've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

The one specific instance of content is no longer relevant, and there is no more time in the day to read elaborate treatments of subject matters. Instead, what seems to prevail is a constant flow. This flow threatens to replace actual thinking and discourse, both of which require reflection and time — a scarce resource used up by ever new, fast-flowing media.

It seems to me that those who immersed in this flow are unable to get out, as if sucked in by a maelstrom. I've seen people enter serious withdrawal within hours of not knowing what's going on in the world. One could miss out on something.

If you're "following" people on one of those microblogging platforms, I challenge you to spend the weekend offline and when the urge hits, ask yourself what you are actually missing. I mean what you are really missing, and by that I mean anything other than the cozy buzz and hum of entertainment washed upon you, preventing you from having to think about what you could be (actively) doing instead.

I hope it's not a lot. For else, I fear that this means that future generations will be stuck with this communication culture, just like water droplets can't ever play in the mountain trickle again.

NP: Sola Rosa: Get It Together