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Why care about code?

Last week, Bloomberg published a 38,000-word behemoth entitled What is Code? It took up an entire issue of their print edition, though to really appreciate the piece in all its glory, it needs to be experienced digitally.

Everyone should read it, especially if you aren’t interested in programming or don’t care about code at all.

The truth is, software is eating the world. The world’s largest bookseller, Amazon, is a software company. Netflix is a software company. Pixar is a software company. Uber. Spotify. Airbnb. The Bloomberg article itself says:

Samsung makes computers that look like TVs, and Tesla makes computers with wheels and engines. Some things that aren’t yet computers—dental floss, flashlights—will fall eventually.

In a world driven by software, understanding the nature of code is basic literacy. To avoid the subject is to stay benighted; it’s an act of faith to assume that our software works properly, and that we can use it without ourselves changing in some way.

We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us. Just as using a hammer can give you a callous, using software without knowing its proclivities means that you’ll start to adopt its biases and predispositions, rather than vice-versa.

In his book Program or Be Programmed, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says:

Computers and networks are more than mere tools: They are like living things, themselves. Unlike a rake, a pen, or even a jackhammer, a digital technology is programmed. This means it comes with instructions not just for its use, but also for itself. And as such technologies come to characterize the future of the way we live and work, the people programming them take on an increasingly important role in shaping our world and how it works. After that, it’s the digital technologies themselves that will be shaping our world, both with and without our explicit cooperation.

Moreover, understanding code is empowering. The knowledge that you can have an idea and make it happen just by learning a slightly different language is heady stuff. Everyone has a great idea they want to see happen. What separates them from the Mark Zuckerbergs and Jack Dorseys of the world? Nothing, except a bit of programming knowledge.

What is Code? is a long read, but it’s insightful, clever, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. It’s smart, but the kind of smart that elevates its readers rather than belittling them. The digital version even keeps track of where you left off, so you can take a break and come back to it.

To keep up with the way things are going, just start reading here.