Programming computers is a breeze. At least the gurus for digital skills in the world would make us believe. From Code.org’s promise that everyone can learn to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comment that writing code is “fun and interactive,” the art and science of creating software is now as accessible as that Alphabet.
Unfortunately, this rosy portrait has no relation to reality. For starters, the profile of a programmer’s mind is quite unusual. Software developers are not only extremely analytical and creative, they also need an almost superhuman focus to deal with the complexity of their tasks. Manic attention to detail is a must; Slowness is forbidden. In order to reach this level of concentration, a state of mind called “in the flow” is required. This is a quasi-symbiotic relationship between man and machine that improves performance and motivation.
Insisting on glamor and having fun coding is the wrong way to familiarize children with computer science. It insults their intelligence and gives them the harmful idea that you don’t need discipline to move forward. As everyone knows who has minimal experience in creating software, a minute of typing is an hour of study.
It is better to admit that the coding is technically and ethically complicated
Computers can currently only execute jobs to varying degrees. So it is up to the developer to be clear: the machine does what you say, not what you mean. More and more “decisions” are entrusted to software, including those for life and death: think of self-driving cars; think of semi-autonomous weapons; Remember that Facebook and Google draw conclusions about your marital, psychological, or physical status before you sell it to the highest bidder. However, it is rarely in the interests of companies and governments to encourage us to investigate what is going on under these processes.
All of these scenarios are based on exquisite technical foundations. However, we cannot answer this by answering only technical questions. Programming is not a detail that can be left to “technicians” under the false pretext that their decisions are “scientifically neutral”. Societies are too complex: the algorithm is political. Automation has already hit the job security of low-skilled workers in factories and warehouses around the world. Next up are employees. Today’s digital giants work with a fraction of the employees of yesterday’s industrial giants. The irony of encouraging more people to work as programmers is that they are slowly becoming unemployed.
In an increasingly complex and networked world where software plays an increasingly important role in everyday life, it is irresponsible to speak of coding as an easy activity. Software not only consists of lines of code, it is also not technical. In just a few years, understanding programming will be an essential part of active citizenship. The idea that coding offers an unproblematic path to social progress and personal improvement has the advantage of the growing technoplutocracy, which isolates itself behind its own technology.
This article was originally published on Aeon by Walter Vannini and republished under Creative Commons.
Published on May 15, 2020 – 07:56 UTC