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Get with the Program

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code: 3. b.Telegr. A system of words arbitrarily used for other words or for phrases, to secure brevity and secrecy; c. Computing. Any system of symbols and rules for expressing information or instructions in a form usable by a computer or other machine for processing or transmitting information (OED).

In other words, it ain’t rocket science. If you can punctuate, you can code. It’s true. Certainly some code is more difficult than others, but if you look at very basic things like HTML, it can be learned. Indeed, it should be learned. There’s a movement afoot to have coding taught in schools. One of the (many) things I regret about high school is only learning languages like Spanish and French, not languages like C++ and Fortran. As a result, I feel I’ve contributed to the continuing sexism and occultism of tech.

To be clear, by “occult” I mean, “Not disclosed or divulged, secret; kept secret; communicated only to the initiated” (OED).

One the best things a boss ever made me do was take an introductory UNIX course. While it didn’t change me into a programmer or drive me to switch from Windows to Linux, learning a little UNIX opened my eyes. I understood how to talk to a computer; that my coworkers were merely writing instructions. Yes, some “instructions” were complex algorighhms that I haven’t learned how to do (yet), but still this chink let through a wee ray of light. I’m still chipping away.

By not knowing how our devices work, we yield control. The same is true for everything from cofffee makers to cars, but code is all around us; indeed, it’s in our coffee makers and cars. But so what? Samuel Arbesman, in his Aeon essay, “Get Under the Hood,” explains:

The more we can play with a system, take it apart, tweak it, even make it fail, the more we are comfortable with a technology. We don’t view it as something foreign or strange, as solely the domain of experts, who overcharge us to fix our stuff, under threat of a voided warranty. We see how our machines work, creaky joints and all, and we can take a certain amount of intellectual ownership in them. And more importantly, we can see what sort of role they play in society. Knowing how a car uses gasoline, how the steering mechanism operates, or what the precious metals are in a vehicle, are all windows into various larger issues involving energy, the environment and even commodity pricing.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to get with the program.

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About Muse Ink

Toronto-based freelance editor | feminist nerd | hobbyist photographer | former bookseller

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