When I retweeted this, I said:
Dance or die indeed. The very real fact is that there is a serious need for computer literacy (as well as mathematical literacy) in our modern world. We increasingly live on a digital plain where the new aristocrats are the former nerds AKA the new dorks. Nerds make the rules and geeks rule the world. But this isn’t meant to be some rah rah “revenge of the nerds” sort of nonsense. There is a serious concern I have going forward.
2011 was the year of the protest, but it was also the year of the hacker. You might argue that somewhere deep down inside, they are the same thing. One hacks machines to say screw society and the other hacks society to say screw being part of the machine. The biggest headlines around the world involved systems being hacked or compromised, iconic geeks dying, and of course protests and revolutions that aren’t really as unique as we might think. It should be increasingly clear that the internet, the digital world, and all things technomagically relevant are the wave of the future.
Computer skills are increasingly becoming vital for just about any job. Just to be a librarian, you practically have to study IT. It’s not a stretch to envision surgeons and doctors of the future getting their first degrees in subjects like Biomedical Engineering. There are, in the industrialized world, more people who have had polio than there are people who have not interacted with a computer. And polio has practically been eradicated. All around you there are systems, working almost like magic, controlling everything you use. The flow of traffic (through the control of traffic lights), the flow of water and electricity, the website you’re reading this on, the programming you get on your TV, even the basic controls in your microwave. These represent varying levels of difficulty and complexity, but all pieces of code. If math is the language of the universe, coding is how we manipulate it.
You live in a world of sorcery. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. To borrow a technomage saying (modified), if you go to a website and someone shows you the source code for how it works, if you don’t know what that code does, it might as well be “tongue of crow” and “eye of newt”. The sad part about the lack of computer literacy is that it isn’t difficult. Sure the layman may not create a Google, but the knowledge to create a website can be acquired in a weekend and perfected in a week. That is, if you choose not to go beyond html.
Ruby is a powerful and absolutely gorgeous programming language designed in Japan. Most people talking about Ruby are actually referring to Rails (Ruby on Rails), a powerful and popular web application framework written in Ruby. Either way, Ruby is extremely clean, relatively easy to learn, and designed to make you more productive.
Python is my favorite. Like Ruby, it’s brilliantly useful, and exceptionally powerful. Like Ruby, it’s exceedingly easy to learn. And like Ruby, it’s designed to be pretty (Python emphasizes readability). While not technically a scripting language, it is sometimes treated as such.
I know those definitions do nothing to make you understand what these languages are, but here’s why I think you should learn a language. The war of the future will be digital. You can already see from the fights going on around SOPA, that control of the digital is control of the masses. Autocratic regimes immediately cut off internet and phone access when unrest rises. The greatest weapon China has over the largest population of people is not how much it manufactures for how many people, but the great firewall of China.
Through these autocratic minefields controlled by so-called democratic authorities, with fake smiles and genteel attempts to civilize the internet, you have a new kind of citizen. This citizen is plugged-in and able to navigate the chaos of the web like some sort of chair-bound ninja. She is armed with the skills to create her own space and fortify it, and can move around unseen by the increasingly draconian multitudinous-eyes of Big Brother. In the coming years and decades, it’s these people who hold the keys to the kingdom. Today, knowing a geek means having someone to ask about phones or to remove a virus from your PC. But if the new battleground for freedom and privacy is going to be digital, the geek is essentially the equivalent of the only guy with a gun in a post-apocalyptic world.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Data is the new currency, and more than that, the new source of value. Throughout social development, as automation took jobs, people converted their skills and did something new. Where the land was once tilled by hand, it’s now tilled by machines. Where cars were once manufactured by people on an assembly line, they are now completely handled by machines. Each time, people have learned new skills and transferred them to something else. That’s no longer the case. The only safe jobs are the high specialty, cerebral jobs. As time goes by, even surgeons are in trouble. The new economy is that of data and information. You may do alright for now, but your children are screwed. There will come a time when even a ballerina will need to know coding, the way a marathoner still might need to learn how to drive even though his income is from marathons and not truck driving. Okay, that was a terrible analogy. Coding isn’t difficult. There are many languages with many different strengths and weaknesses, and once you learn one, you can learn many. You just need to find one that works with your personality.
At some point, despite not working in “computers” you learned how to use a computer. With little effort you learned to navigate the web, search on Google, and speak the internet lingo. Given time, learning to code isn’t much more difficult. Will you be a developer? Probably not. Will you create something magical and become a billionaire? I doubt it. Will your ability to code save your life in a pinch? Maybe. Who knows? What I know is that it isn’t hard, it’s useful, it allows for unspeakable amounts of creativity, and it’s a new type of language. Coding will be the language of trade, war, and maybe someday love. The world will be split between those who speak it, and those who don’t. The “world’s richest” is already being overrun by those who speak it.
Coding should be as fundamental as math in children’s education. Treated with the same urgency as any other “foreign language” but taught better. Like I said earlier, dance or die; or as Douglas Rushkoff said: [quote]“If we don’t learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves… program or be programmed”[/quote]