When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.
Educated laypeople who saw in the net a new opportunity for amateur participation in previously cordoned-off sectors of media and society instead see the indiscriminate mashing and mixing up of pretty much everything, in an environment where the loud and lewd drown out anything that takes more than a few moments to understand.
With the advent of a new medium, the status quo not only comes under scrutiny; it is revised and rewritten by those who have gained new access to the tools of its creation. Unfortunately, such access is usually limited to a small elite. The Axial Age invention of the twenty-two-letter alphabet did not lead to a society of literate Israelite readers, but a society of hearers, who would gather in the town square to listen to the Torah scroll read to them by a rabbi. Yes, it was better than being ignorant slaves, but it was a result far short of the medium’s real potential.
And this time, the stakes are actually even 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.