17.651 modelling workflow and design

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Feb 17 2004 - 07:18:27 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 651.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2004 12:14:45 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: modelling workflow and design

In his keynote address to the 1994 ACM SIGMETRICS Conference on Measurement
& Modeling of Computer Systems (online at
http://cne.gmu.edu/pjd/PUBS/15level.pdf), Peter J. Denning interestingly
notes the close historical relationship between conceptions of human work
and the design of computing systems. He begins, not surprisingly, with
Frederick Taylor's late 19C principle of "scientific management" of factory
workers, which sought, successfully, to transfer the knowledge of skilled
workers into the design of manufacturing processes. Henry Ford's production
line is perhaps the best known manifestation, but a great deal of
(post)modern life has been most profoundly affected by Taylor's ideas.
Denning discusses in particular the development of operating systems
against the background (and sometimes foreground) of the conceptions of
human labour they reflect. He notes that the old ideas are no longer
sufficient to support how we now conceive of how we do what we do. In
particular he cites the work of Fernando Flores, colleague of Terry
Winograd's and co-author of Understanding Computers and Cognition (1986),
whose ideas clearly remain deeply indebted to Heideggerian phenomenology,
like it or not :-). He argues that,

>It is no longer sufficient to think of operating systems as tracking
>the flow of input-output specifying tasks; it is time to think of
>them as managers and facilitators of incomplete commitments in
>an organization. It is no longer sufficient to think of queueing
>networks as calculators of throughput and response time of input-output
>specifying tasks; it is time to extend them, or to find new
>models, to calculate the satisfactory production rates and cycle
>times of organizations.
>The notion of a boundary between the computer system and the
>organization is disappearing and will be gone by the end of this
>decade. Operating systems will cease to be associated with the
>internal functioning of machines and will be associated instead
>with the functioning of organizations.

None of this is surprising, really -- we all know that our inner and outer
lives are in cahoots with each other. But even if Denning's prediction is
off by a few years -- is it? -- there surely can be few stronger arguments
in support of a humanities computing to help us understand and respond to
the immediate social urgency implied here.



Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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