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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