I don't use pair programming very often - I usually prefer to have the people I'm working with also coding. However, there is one individual with whom pair programming is an amazingly productive experience. He's my assistant lead developer (I'm the lead), and I directly trained him when he first joined the company. Although I have many years experience over him, it doesn't turn into mentoring time.
We first discovered we liked working this way by accidentally, when we were both working on the same section of code. Instead of trying to copy each other's changes, he had me take over all the typing, and we'd be talking through the entire logic. It was quite productive, and some of the most fun we've had in coding.
I guess the point is this: no practice should be followed religiously. What works marvelously for one situation and group may not work well at all for another. There are virtually no methodologies and practices that work always or never.
I can definitely see that it works for some people at times. And I think it's good that people try things out to see what works for them as a team.
You are right that no practice should be followed religiously. It's probably unfortunate that pair programming is something that is often presented as an ideal that a whole team should follow. I'm less skeptical when I hear it being used occassionally and with willing partners.
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