I recently rewatched this 1997 Alan Kay talk about object-oriented programming to prep for my class this week where we introduce OOP concepts.

It’s really interesting to hear him talk about how the focus on objects in the name (which he coined) was a mistake.

For Kay (in 1997) OOP was about what lies in between, or Ma (from Japanese) and less about the objects themselves.

Left panel of the Shōrin-zu byōbu

Teaching OOP is more like theorizing and critiquing a philosophy, or way of thinking about the world, than it is about teaching a specific way of programming.

This reminded me how much of an impact Richard Gabriel’s work made on me as an aspiring software developer.

Gabriel anticipated much of the software studies that was to come. I would lump many of the Object Oriented Ontology folks in there too, but it would be some work to connect those dots. For example Gabriel’s thesis advisor was Terry Winograd, who drew on the same Heidegger that folks like Harman, Bogost and Morton have. But the thing I love about Gabriel’s work, and the software studies work that really resonates with me, is that OOP is also deeply about craft and practice–in short, art.

I like that Gabriel permitted himself to make things so that he could think more clearly about how things were made. To people who make things regularly this idea of giving yourself permission to make things (and perhaps even remake things) may seem a bit weird. But for folks in academia, where the premium is on the originality of your research, and concepts/ideas/theories rather than things, I suspect it may seem more relevant.