Coding is the literacy of our age. Soon, knowing how to code is not going to be an option. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now, as I’ve gone about making my podcast. For instance, talking to primary school children who can already do more with their phones than I can.
This point was really rammed home when I cracked open Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff.
The entire book is a plea to take control of the devices that have become so enmeshed in our lives. But it’s this bit early on that really makes it plain:
“The people hear while the rabbis read; the people read while those with access to the printing press write; today we write, while our techno-elite programs. As a result, most of society remains one full dimensional leap of awareness and capability behind the few who manage to monopolize access to the real power of any media age.
And this time the stakes are actually higher. Before, failing meant surrendering our agency to a new elite. In a digital age, failure could mean relinquishing our nascent collective agency to the machines themselves. The process appears to have already begun.”
Rushkoff has put coding into a continuum that includes literacy and mass media. Just think of the power that has accumulated to those who could read while the masses were unlettered, who could reach everyone while the rest of us shout in the wind.
And it’s not just that literacy and mass reach bestowed power, they did so in ways that no one could foresee, and that the unempowered didn’t understand.
But what started as superpowers of the rich and initiated, that for a time were specialist jobs (scribes and journalists), have been extended to all of us. Became required of all of us. And we are all richer for it.
Coding will be the same. It’s not going to remain a specialist activity, the purview of unseen developers, but will become as common as writing.
The other day I met a girl who had created an app so she could share the books she had read with her friends. A boy had been given an assignment to learn his school timetable, and so had created an app to automatically give himself reminders in the morning. These are primary school students.
Yes, these are really banal problems. But that’s exactly why they’re proof of how important coding will be. Technology is ubiquitous. Offline and online are being melded. Coding isn’t just about creating the next Google, but about fully realising something that is everywhere. Those of us who can’t, will be the unlettered of the modern age.