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So often the debate around digital technology and literacies seems to be framed around whether we should all learn how to code. As if simply learning a few lines would solve all the world’s ills. Although Douglas Rushkoff touches on this in his book, Program or be Programmed, his main focus is on what it actually means to program. For Rushkoff programming is closely linked to the art of writing, just as the creation of the alphabet focused on hearing and the printing press supported on a rise in reading. This programming as writing is not just about programming as an act of engineering, but as a liberal art. As Rushkoff explains,

Even if we don’t all go out and learn to program—something any high school student can do with a decent paperback on the subject and a couple of weeks of effort—we must at least learn and contend with the essential biases of the technologies we will be living and working with from here on.

This is an understanding of the operating system of the world we live in and the inherent biases that are built into the platforms and devices we use each and every day.

Rushkoff’s discussion is broken down into ten modern day commandments:

  • Time and the push to be ever present.
  • Place and the disconnection with the local.
  • Choice and the pressure to forever choose.
  • Complexity and the ignorance of nuance.
  • Scale and the demand of the global spread.
  • Identity and the digital self.
  • Social and contact as king.
  • Facts and the demand to tell the truth.
  • Openness and the importance of sharing.
  • Purpose and the power of programming.

Each bias is unpacked, providing examples and elaborations to support an ongoing dialogue.

What makes Program or be Programmed the best introduction that I have read on coding and the impact of digital technologies is that provides a considered point of view. It balances between criticism and praise for the modern world, with a clear hope for tomorrow. Although we may not all build our own social media platform or a search engine to match Google, we have a responsibility to be aware how such programs and platforms are influencing us. For as Gary Stager says, “technology is not neutral.”

For more information, listen to this interview on ABC Future Tense or check out the following clips:

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REVIEW: Program or be Programmed by @Rushkoff by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

16 thoughts on “REVIEW: Program or be Programmed by @Rushkoff

  1. Kin Lane reflects upon his effort to expose himself to people of different backgrounds, including people of colour and voices beyond his childhood upbringing. He explains that so much of it is deciding whether to be a part of the performance or being in the audience.

    I believe in the value of the individual, and the importance of me being a free and independent thinker, but I believe in freedom and equality, not just freedom. I am not under any delusion that my thoughts and actions aren’t influence by those around me, and every one of my actions is being shaped by the world around me. The stories I read on and offline influence my thinking. The people I let into my life all influence my behavior, and everything I do each day is part of a performance for the people who know me. I would say that the independent individual part of all of this is really about who I let into my circle and be either part of the performance or join the audience.
    Kin Lane
    This feels like it touches on a lot of Douglas Rushkoff’s work, whether it be Program or be Programmed or Team Human’s effort to find the other.

  2. John Philpin unpacks the question, should everyone learn to code? His response is nuanced. He suggests that learn to code if you have a love and interest, but do not feel that it is an occupation that is guaranteed to make a lot of money. Instead, choose something that you are passionate about, understanding that appreciating how technology works is an important part of any business.

    You wouldn’t think about running a business if you didn’t have the fundamental understanding of law and accounting, why would you assume that it is ok not to understand technology.

    For me this comes back to Douglas Rushkoff’s message: program or be programmed.

    Rushkoff’s discussion is broken down into ten modern day commandments:

    Time and the push to be ever present.

    Place and the disconnection with the local.

    Choice and the pressure to forever choose.

    Complexity and the ignorance of nuance.

    Scale and the demand of the global spread.

    Identity and the digital self.

    Social and contact as king.

    Facts and the demand to tell the truth.

    Openness and the importance of sharing.

    Purpose and the power of programming.

    This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

    The challenge to me is to go beyond the question of instruction and understanding of different languages. Beyond debates about fitting it within an already crowded curriculum. Instead the focus should be on creating the conditions in which students are able to take action and create new possibilities. Maybe this involves Minecraft, Ozobot or Spheros, maybe it doesn’t. Most importantly it involves going beyond worrying about training or competency, as Ian Chunn would have it, and instead embracing the world of making by leading the learning.

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