Program or be programmed

I read Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Program or Be Programmed with a mixture of fascination and criticism. I didn’t agree with every argument (e.g., that computer networks have no notion of time; many internet protocols use timestamps to ensure reliable communication), but each chapter gave me something to wrestle with mentally, and the book as a whole made me see various aspects of my life (interacting with technology) in a new light. Rushkoff’s thesis takes a historical view of how new technology penetrates society gradually, and those who develop the ability to manipulate and create, rather than just to use and consume, are the ones in control. Arguing from examples based on the development of writing, print, and electronic media, he notes that for us today, it’s the ability to program that gives us control over the new technological world, and that (somewhat chillingly) willful or accidental ignorance about the motives of Those Who Program may cause you to execute their Program without even knowing it.

This great, short video lets Rushkoff summarize his points in two minutes flat:

I am already a “programmer,” in that I have programming skills, but even so I consume most of what’s on the net as a user, rather than getting out there and being actively involved myself. Programming is what I do at work. On the other hand, I’ll never forget the thrill I experienced when I first contributed to an Open Source project. My art, my creation, uploaded into the ether after building on, complementing, and extending the work of complete strangers! And who knew where others might take it! It was like Free Love, but in C.

But after reading his book, I couldn’t help but think a while about what built-in biases about how various technologies work are shaping my own thoughts, habits, and ability to create.

This point, however, is the tenth of his 10 commandments. The earlier ones have value too; it never hurts to get another reminder of the value of not always being “on”/”connected,” and of being present in the here and the now.

1 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Mike said,

    October 30, 2012 at 11:28 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I finally had a chance to read through the book last night, and after re-reading your post, I’ve finally decided to comment. I do agree that his middle few points were slightly “weaker” than his first and last, but that might be due to his structuring of his arguments: an immediately approachable and relatable one at the start, followed by a gradual build-up of evidence slowly tipping the scale before his final sticking point, the one he really wants you to take away.

    I do agree that they still have some interesting things to mull over, like the distancing and altering of close, personal relationships and the general consensus today that the stealing of electronic media is “ok” or even justified by the way things are organized. Definitely makes you analyze what your own online tendencies are and how they change who you are as a person while sitting with keyboard in hand.

    Thankfully, I’m also lucky in that I am a “programmer” as well. My friends asked me why I insisted on writing my own back-up script for my hard drive, and I simply answered, “because I wanted to.” I wanted the challenge, and the understanding behind what it was actually doing, making me a better programmer and (to me, at least) person. I will have to try to get into open source collaboration, though, as it’s something I’ve yet to try. Maybe once I get an Ubuntu laptop I’ll be more inclined?

  2. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » Which programming language should you learn first? said,

    April 23, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    […] of more general interest, beyond the computer science classroom. Douglas Rushkoff argues that everyone should be programming-literate, for their own survival, and even less extreme views highlight the benefits of computational […]

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