Science is Culture, Technology is Art (reprise)

Segregation or Cooperation?

In 1994, I produced a CD-ROM for Norwegian schools, touting the slogan (in Norwegian) in the title of this essay. Over the years, I've repeated this phrase on many occasions, in different contexts, as I believe there is a lesson here that the gatekeepers of learning seem to be unable or unwilling to preserve. I was reminded of this just the other day, while talking to a friend, caught between these worlds in another way, and it reminded me of the discussion about DevOps culture that is being played out on the net today.

What do I mean?

Science is culture ...

because science is part of our trusted heritage, the stories that we tell, the way we look at, think about, and ultimately discuss the world. The word science comes from the Latin word scientia for knowledge, awareness, familiarity. Our best account of the world is something that should be familiar to us.

Science enters into our literature, movies, paintings, theatre and philosophy -- not necessarily in a promiscuous way, but it is there nonetheless. Of course, it is occasionally abused and misrepresented, like many other ideas, in all these media -- but that is the price of entering the broader consciousness. Eventually, certain presumed truths emerge and become culture.

I believe science must be a celebrated part of our culture. It doesn't matter that it is sometimes abused, as long as it brings discussion. Science is not truth, in any sense, but it is a compendium of the best evidenced stories (models) about the world that we have. Stories and artefacts become culture when they are discussed, repeated, rehearsed, performed, passed on and otherwise disseminated. This is exactly what science tries to do with knowledge about the world.

Culture is not the opposite of science -- but, in our schools and universities, we pretend that it is.

Technology is art ...

because technology is the creative interpretation of our knowledge for the consumption of the public. It is about human creativity. The word is from Greek: techna (drawing), and logos (speech) -- i.e. it means "a discussion about design". True, we often use it for practical rather than merely æsthetic ends, but the creative process is essentially the same whether for painting, designing a building or an electronic circuit. It is about creating an experience using a medium that resonates with popular culture.

Technology is not the opposite of art -- but, in our schools and universities, we pretend that it is.

Technology, with the help of science, also brings about and affects culture. If you don't think technology affects culture, think if the motorcar, the microwave oven, the smartphone, etc. Repeated "memes" become culture. The real issue is whether culture is inclusive or divisive for people.

What does this mean?

From isolated individuals to a human chain

In recent discussions about DevOps in IT management, the role of culture has been oft debated. The "C" in DevOps (from CAMS = culture, automation, measurement and sharing) has been emphasized by (what Kris Butyaert calls) the DevOps "tenors". Isn't this the same kind of issue? Should we divide disciplines or view them as complementary?

With developers and operations workers acting separately, digging into their own closed world cultures (what John Willis might call a local optimization of their world), there can be little cooperation. But now suppose they share, cooperate and, with common cultural ideas, to see a larger organizational value chain ("global optimization") and complete the real purpose for the organization.

Is culture or technology the answer to making people work better with one another?

The answer is surely whatever helps us to move from a divisive culture to an inclusive culture and bridge that gap is progress. That can only happen through a sound dialogue about technology, design and by asking open questions in the manner of science.

So today I want to extend my slogan:

Science is culture,
Technology is art,
Cooperation is progress.