The Case for Software Criticism

Here’s a quick one Typology of tech journalism today: news coverage (“Amazon announces layoffs of 18,000 employees”), gadget reviews, company and founder profiles, opinion pieces (Zeynep Tufecki et al.), investigative journalism (“The Uber Files”), industry overviews ( TechCrunch), personal blogs, substacks, and — if you’re generous — Hacker News comments and GitHub issues. It’s an incomplete catalog, but you get the idea. However, an overview of this landscape reveals a curious gap: software criticism, in which a piece of software is subjected to critical analysis.

So that we understand each other. technology Criticism is nothing new. Modern critique of technology goes as far back as Lewis Mumford, Herbert Marcuse, Martin Heidegger, and Marshall McLuhan, depending on who you ask. I assume you’ve heard of popular books like lately The age of surveillance capitalism And The attention merchants and may even be familiar with technology critics like Jaron Lanier, Evgeny Morozov, and Ellen Ullman. Or to name just a few from the academic flank, Fred Turner, Gabriella Coleman and Sherry Turkle.

But software criticism is not the same as technology criticism. A work of software criticism is Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” what a New York Times The book review refers to Virginia Woolf’s Modern Fiction. The latter is a more synoptic assessment of the subject, while the former is – at least theoretically, if it existed – a targeted survey of a single work.

So where are software critics? If the 18th and 19th centuries were novels and the 1920s were reserved for jazz music, isn’t software a defining artifact of our time? How in Turing’s name did the culture of software criticism not emerge?

The idea that A rhapsodic exegesis of fermented grape juice might be a legitimate category of criticism that didn’t surface until the likes of Robert Parker – whose legacy, for the record, is quite messy – took the genre seriously. There were wine reviews in trade journals (some with obvious conflicts of interest), but there was no “culture” of wine criticism. There are now more wine columns than (unfortunately) poetry sections in major newspapers in the United States.

But you might think that wine, in its form, is too different from software. Then we have another example for you here: Autocriticism. In 2004, Dan Neil from The Los Angeles Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his “unique reviews of automobiles that combine technical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural observations.”

And here would be the case of architectural criticism, whose credibility is well established. We should agree on this in advance: An architecture can be as complex as software. In fact, the vocabulary of software engineering has many parallels to architecture. (For example, those who make high-level design decisions are called software architects.) Many concepts are also shared. Take the interface implementation in software. Similarly, all elevators share the same interface – the door opens when you push the button, you wait for it to arrive and drive in, you push the button of the floor you want to go to, and so on – but their implementations – hydraulic, traction with gearbox, without machine room – vary. It may not be coincidental that Mumford, an early technology critic, served as architecture critic The New Yorker. The Case for Software Criticism

Zack Zwiezen

Zack Zwiezen is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Zack Zwiezen joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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