Our effectiveness in the Internet+ Age is dependent on our competence with code. That’s because more and more of life is online, and when online it’s all a matter of code. Consequently, we’ll do better if we understand code and we’ll do our best if we learn how to code.
Everyone needs to understand code. That means, first, to know that there is such a thing as code, that code exists. In addition, we need to understand that the Internet itself, as well as everything on it, is made from code: all programs or software; everything that appears on our screens, all apps, websites, .com(s), .org(s), .edu(s), .gov(s), .net(s), images, text, colors, social networks, . . . everything! Even some things that don’t show on the screen, such as all malware (including computer viruses, worms, and spyware) is made from code.
Code, by making all that’s online, makes, as Douglas Rushkoff points out, “[t]he . . . environments in which we all spend . . . so much of our time these days . . . where we do our work and play,” and we need to understand that these environments “have been constructed by people (or at least for people) with real agendas [interests]. They want us to believe,” Rushkoff continues, “certain ideas, spend our money on certain things, and connect to certain people in certain ways.” Code, in other words, embodies interests, and it’s important to realize that these interests may not be—and in many, if not most, cases are not—compatible with our interests.
We also need to understand that code, by making all that’s online and thus our environments, controls online behavior. Code, says William Mitchell, “control[s] when you can act, what kinds of actions you can take, and who or what you can affect by your actions.” Code has this extensive range of control because it determines access to the Internet and, when on the Internet, code controls access to the content on it. Code–Eli Pariser informs us in his best-seller, The Filter Bubble–determines the “news we . . . consume;” what we “watch, read, and see.” Increasingly, he continues, “the power to shape the news rests in the hands of bits of code, not professional human editors.” Or, to describe this power non-metaphorically, the power to shape the news is in the hands of coders. They are the news editors of the Internet+ Age. Moreover, with each passing day, Pariser writes, more and more of “our public functions, from police databases to energy grids to schools run on code.” Even a workaday matter like a shopping trip, as pointed out in a BBC Teach post, “now relies on code to make it run smoothly.”
Consequences of Not Understanding Code
The consequences of not understanding code are appreciable. To not understand that code exists and that all that’s online is made of code is to be oblivious of a crucial component of life in the Internet+ Age. It’s not being cognizant of what’s increasingly ascent in determining what we experience and the quality of those experiences. Also, when we don’t understand code we’re “unaware,” says Rushkoff, “of the biases of the programs in which we are participating,” oblivious of a source of significant control over our lives, and ignorant of the importance of code in matters significant and mundane.
Learn How to Code
Although there are many notable advantages for understanding code, maximum effectiveness in the Internet+ Age requires that you learn how to code. That’s because code is the language of this Age. To be a literate person you need to learn how to code, how to write programs, how to design software; only then can you change the online environment coded/programmed by others and make it more compatible with your interests. Either you make code/programs to your liking or the code/programs made by others make you. In other words, “program or be programmed.”
Another way to think about the significance of being able to code, in addition to enhancing effectiveness, is in terms of “power.” Simply put, those who are able to code have power. In Mitchell’s words, “control of code is power. . . . code . . . is the medium in which intentions are enacted and designs are realized, and it is . . . a crucial focus of political contest. Who shall write the software that increasingly structures our daily lives? What shall that software allow and proscribe? Who shall be privileged by it and who marginalized? How shall the writers of the rules be answerable?”
Consequences of Not Learning How to Code
When you don’t know how to code, how to design software, you relegate the code/software you’re experiencing to others, thereby trusting them that their software, their programs, in Rushkoff’s words, “are really doing what you’re asking and in a way that is in your best interests.” And, he continues, “the longer you live this way, the less access you have to the knowledge that it could be any other way.” This is to say, when you don’t know how to code, you’re, as Rushkoff puts it, “at the mercy off” “coders and/or those who pay them and, moreover, you’re not aware of alternatives to what you’re experiencing. Rushkoff calls code “the steering wheel of our civilization.” So, if you don’t know how to code, he points out, “[y]ou may not know what’s going on, you may not have much of any impact on the future of our species, and you may begin to feel like technology knows more about you than you know about it.”
There are two additional points I would like to make about code that don’t fit easily into the above discussions concerning code. The first is that code is likeable, and the second is about the time and effort required to understand and/or learn how to code.
Code is likeable. To understand code, and even more so, to know how to code is to like it. As Alexander Galloway indicates when he writes about the foundational code of the Internet, the suite of protocols named TCP/IP: “protocol is an incredibly attractive technology. . . . a technology of inclusion, . . . openness.”. And let’s not forget, code brings us the software that increases our individual and organizational effectiveness, as well as the software that entertains us. Code is a tool of betterment–what’s not to like about that?
My second point in this postscript is that we have the time and the ability to understand code and to learn how to code. I agree with Rushkoff that it’s not “too difficult or too late” for most people in most circumstances to accomplish either or both. And as we realize the likability of code and see that increasing number of people throughout the world, including children, are understanding and learning how to code, we can become confident that we also have the time and talent to develop our competence with code.