Concerning newness

I watched the movie Pollock, not to be confused with Potluck, and I came away with an interesting impression.  In the movie Jackson Pollock, portrayed by the under-estimated Ed Harris, was a starving artist until he tried a new technique where he basically splatters paint onto a canvas.  If I remember the reasoning behind it correctly, he was the first one to do truly abstract art.  In other words, art that came directly from the artist and had no starting point in the natural world.  In other words, it was completely creative.  Even Picasso was quoted as saying something to the effect of “to create art you must start with something real and then remove all reality from it.”  I’m not quoting it properly, but it was to the effect that you needed to start in the real world.  Pollock, by contrast, simply made lines and splotches, but they were his lines and splotches.  While I would question the reasoning behind it, I am a fan of his work, though I have a greater preference for Mondrian.

The thing about the movie that intrigued me was not the art, or Pollock’s life, but the life of his benefactor; Peggy Guggenheim.  More specifically, the lives of those around his benefactor.  One could quite easily say that these were the “elite”.  And by “elite”, I mean “people with a chip on their shoulder due only to the fact that they happened into money.”  The purpose of their lives seemed to be trying to find something new so they could show up their friends.  They were looking to have their eyes and ears “tickled” with the new.  This can also be observed among the intellectual class as well.  My own observations have led me to conclude that the intellectual class is not so interested in accuracy as they are in finding a new idea, as if “new” were somehow an inherent good.  That is, at least, unless you were once responsible for a “new” idea.  Then the “new” is cause for concern because someone else may get the status that was once afforded to the previous owner of the new.  The correlation between Intellectualism (note the all-important -ism) and “new car smell” is really quite astounding.

I cover a lot of ground in my daily reading.  Technology is a big part of that.  I have noticed that technology suffers from a similar ailment as does Intellectualism; the constant need to have the senses tickled.  There are two parts of this.  The first is the need to have the senses tickled.  With very notable exceptions it seems that much of the technology that comes on the market is not to solve a problem, but to illicit “oooo’s” from potential buyers.  The second part of this is the word “constant”.  Technology has a cultural ADHD problem.  Not only do we look for something shiny, but our attention is diverted from one shiny thing to another until we find the shiniest thing and decide that we want them all.  Part of this, I suspect, is our desire to be envied.  But the problem is that technology moves so fast that you can only be envied for so long before someone else is your source of envy, once again.

Believe it or not, I am quite convinced that this relates to software development.  I am not going to disparage the need to continuously educate yourself and improve on your abilities.  That is clearly necessary.  What I’m warning against is the same thing that you see in other “cultural” social groups.  That is; the lust for an idea based on its newness or novelty, not it’s value.  And, similarly, the implementation of an idea based not on it’s usefulness, but it’s popularity.  The latter is probably more likely among PHP developers.  Heck, ANY developers.

Take, for example, team management.  Scrum seems to be where people are heading now.  But consider all of the different development methodologies that people wasted time trying to prove was the next big thing?  I haven’t heard a lot on XP or Pair Programming lately.

Or, on the usefulness front, how many people want to do some kind of data processing and shout “Map/Reduce! Map/Reduce! Map/Reduce!” from the top of every mountain when all they need is a “GROUP BY” on a read-only slave?

My point here is that sometimes it’s good to be behind the times a little.  Sometimes it’s good to hold back and ask “do I need/need to know this?” and answer “no”.

So stop reading this new and novel post and get back to work!


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