DRMacIver's Notebook

From Maintaining to Making

From Maintaining to Making

From The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton, page 98:

There are many examples in the history of twentieth-century technology where enterprises started by maintaining a technology, moved on to manufacture components or the whole thing, and then to innovate. But equally there are others where maintenance did not lead to such a development.

This point is, of course, straight out of The Economy of Cities by Jane Jacobs (and Edgerton explicitly mentions it).

I think one of the interesting dynamics of maintenance is that maintenance is intrinsically context-specific. You're not maintaining cars, you're maintaining this specific car. Over time, two identical objects have their own events and history - sometimes they're deliberately modified, sometimes they're just used in a particular way which causes particular strains. This intimately affects what you need to do to maintain them.

The skill of generalising from that maintenance is differently hard - it involves thinking about how things behave when stripped of their context, and robs you of a lot of context-specific tools. For example, it is not in the nature of the kludge to generalise.

But, equally, maintenance both gives you a strong incentive to generalise, because although each object you maintain is different, you get to see many objects and start to notice the patterns through them over and over again. A maintainer is significantly more aware of what the lifecycle of the objects in use is than the manufacturer, and this probably leads very naturally into superior manufacturing if you've got the means and inclination to do so.