Unix, five hundred years on

We simply can’t know which of our cultural offerings will be lasting, and which will quickly fade away. I think, actually, there’s something good to be found in that tension, allowing us to work and create with foresight, care and seriousness, but also with a humble lightness, a willingness to let go.

Very few infrastructure details begin with the idea that they will last 1,000 years. Strange as it sounds it is very likely that some basic software running inside computers  today will be running in computers 500 years from now. We see that conservation in cells, where very primitive metabolic cycles present in archaic cells are still operating in cells today. All the fancy “recent” improvements run upon them. One could imagine that in 5 centuries, parts of unix will be found operating in servers.  But it is clear that no one would be more surprised than the creators of unix. Most creations, including software, are written in less than optimal conditions. Creators always have the idea that they will go back later to fix the many known imperfections. Of course they are never fixed because the shipped rev is “good enough” — and so the temporary good enough becomes a permanent good enough.

from “Temporary Becomes Permanent,” by Kevin Kelly, The Long Now Blog, 13 August 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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