To be honest, I wasn’t going to write about this. I really had an idea to instead write about “Why Elevators?” (Maybe I’ll do a second post if I have time) I felt this topic was too easy/expected of me and did not add much benefit to the class. Additionally, I had expected Austin to cover this topic (not meaning I expected him to add no benefit, but I mean that this topic seemed up his alley), but he didn’t, and I feel that it is important enough that someone should state it even if I do not know the benefit of it.

So here we go. Probably surprising no one, I state that there are technical errors within McPherson’s work. Not only are there technical errors, but these errors undermine McPherson’s entire argument: that the computer systems were developed alongside/in conjunction with/influenced by/setting the precedence for the culture of the time.

The primary issue with McPherson’s argument is her belief that modularity in programming was not necessary at the time, that there was some other way of writing computer programs that would have been just as productive that it was a choice when developing UNIX, just like how she claims that the use of command line over GUI was a choice (which is incorrect for the same reason). McPherson explains that “There are clearly practical advantages of such structures for coding, but they also underscore a world view in which a troublesome part might be discarded without disrupting the whole” (26), but modularity was not due to “practical advantages” but something much stronger.

Modularization was not a choice: it was a technological and efficiency necessity. For large programs, there is no way that everything could be done within one function or a single command. To forgo modularity would mean that every piece of software would have to be written by an individual (as shown in The Bug, reading old code is hard. Reading someone else’s code can be nigh impossible), and in the cases of major software like operating systems, this could be like one person building a skyscraper by him or herself. It would be impossible. Single item production was phased out decades ago not due to choice but due to necessity in our complicated and specialized society.

Another technical issue is when McPherson later claims that we can see “contemporary turns in computing-neural nets, clouds, semantics, etc.-as parallel to recent turns in humanities scholarship to privilege networks over nodes” (33). However, what she ignores is these modern systems are not “emerging modes of computation” (33) but are results of technological advancement. The idea of the neural network dates back to the 1940s and primitive ones were made in the 1950s. However, it was not until sufficiently powerful computers came to be in the 2000’s that these methods she states became feasible. It was not a choice to not implement them until the modern day, it was a technological limitation.

A neural network diagram by Minsky and Papert from their 1969 book Perceptrons, taken from It is not that these ideas were ignored; they simply weren’t feasible with the technology of the time.

From these points, it can be argued that the computer methods/implementations that McPherson bases her arguments on were not conscious or subconscious choices but were necessities in the same way the modularization was a necessary part in the dawn of human civilization (the specialization of individuals as separate modules within a society) and not a choice if society were to advance. For these reasons, I disagree with the original premise of McPherson’s work and am honestly not certain how to reconcile it. The modularization of programming was a technological necessity for the advancement of computing. The fact that it happened in the 1960s during the “modularization” of society is purely coincidence because technological barriers are independent of society. If some other country had been the computing pioneers, I claim that they would also have used modularization regardless of the society, and that this rise of computers would not have inherently created modularization within society.

Unless maybe there is a direct link between technological level and social structure?


(Why do I have so easy a time overshooting a blog post by 250 words but such difficulty with papers?)