Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age | Interactive 2010 | SXSW

When I look at the world, when I look at the economy or religion or government or corporations, I am Filled with the overwhelming sense that we are attempting to operate our society on obsolete code on software — and I don’t just mean our computer software, I mean our social software — on software that are basically legacy systems to legacies we don’t even remember. And that they’re completely inappropriate to what it is we want to get done and that if we can’t understand these programs, the programs in our computers in this world that we’re spending a lot of our time in then we don’t stand a chance of even recognizing those programs. These programs are built on top of the old software. This helps that old software work. This is built on top of the economy it’s built on top of central banking it’s built on top of our current government structures. And If we can’t see through this then we’ll never see that. I wanted to figure out how much of this is the bias of the medium — In other words that we’re in a binary medium, a plus/minus discrete you always have to make a choice medium — versus an analogue reality that has many colors and different things. How much is it the bias of the medium and how much is it the biases of the people who programmed this media for us? Who programmed our technology for us? And How do we even know which is which? How can we even tell them apart? And what I believe is that We won’t know until we understand how our technologies work, and how our technologies work on us. I do believe that if you are not a Programmer you are one of the programmed. It’s that simple. You move from being a passive, almost a hearer of the game, not even…just a person who’s in the game, doesn’t even know the Rules — what can be bent and what can’t — to being a cheater, to being a writer, to being a programmer. Those are the stages our civilization has moved through in successive ages of media. We went from people who just lived in a world that had rules, that we don’t even know what they are. Maybe it’s Gonna rain. Maybe it’s not. Maybe if I sacrifice my kid to Moloch, I’ll get some some plants this year. Maybe I won’t. People just randomly trying to find some predictability. Then we get text, right? We get the 22 letter alphabet. So now instead of depending on priests to read everything for us in hieroglyphs, now we can make our own words. Then we get the printing press, which in theory, now, lets us — instead of depending on a few scribes — now anyone can write. And then we get the computer which of course, now, makes anyone can program reality. Now that’s not what actually happened though. We got text We got a 22-letter alphabet, and what kind of society resulted from that? A bunch of Israelites who go to the town square and hear the rabbi read the Torah to them. So we get the ability to read, and…or the technology of reading and what ability do we get? The ability of the generation before. We get the printing press. Does everyone become a writer? No. We get a civilization of readers and an elite of writers. And now we get the computer. Do we get a nation of programmers? No we get a nation of bloggers. Now we’ve got the great ability to write, but we don’t know how to program. We write in the box that Google gives us. My issue is that at each stage, when we get a new medium, civilization seems to be one stage behind, one generation, one iteration behind the medium that they’re using. And an elite — maybe a new elite — learns to actually use the thing. And this one is bigger. Programming is even bigger, I would argue, than the printing press. Judaism, the printing press gave us protestantism. What does this one give us? I think it’s important — maybe less for the people in this room then for the people who aren’t in this room, or don’t even know about this room — to be able to contend with the biases of digital Media, to know that there are such things as biases, to be able to make conscious choices about what they use and what they don’t. So I think it’s our job To be able to speak about it in a way that people understand, the stuff that we might understand intuitively. Like, oh, apple is going to make a new file structure where there’s no files anymore. And it’s all part of one big database. Well everyone in this room would know, oh my gosh if all your files are in something that doesn’t have files anymore, now you’re going to be wed to that software and stuff, right, because you won’t be able to get your files off the machine. But people, other people don’t think about it that way, because they don’t understand technology as having biases. It’s an amazing moment where we can begin to program money program society. But to do that. We have to understand both the programs that we’re using to do it, and the meme sets, the codes that we are working with, the symbols, And how we relate to them. If we don’t create a society that at least knows there’s a thing called programming Then we will end up being, you know, not the programmers, but the users and worse the used.

53 thoughts on “Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age | Interactive 2010 | SXSW

  1. This was a great session. These are a very good set of snippets from the whole hour of excellence, but there's more. Watch for the audio to come up for this one; it was one of my favorite sessions this time.

  2. Hey you mean this isn't TED!? But I Thought they had ALL the best and the brightest!?[Sarcasm]

    Who want's to hear a talk at TED, when they can hear this guy at SXSW?

    Interesting talk and I understand what he is clamoring for but not everyone is a fully realized individual. Most people just want to watch or be in American Idol.

    Good guy though. Thanks BB for posting him.

  3. I think he made a lot of really good points, but I also feel like he's – in essence – saying the person who makes the paintbrush controls the painter, which I believe could not be further from the truth.

    Every artist has a medium, and programming is just that: an art. It's an amazing, astounding craft – just like woodworking or architecture.

    Just like the people who design the saws and compasses. But is it them that determines what the dresser or the building looks like?

  4. Thank you for posting this video. Though I disagree with the main point…It seems to me that programmers are also among the programmed (why? because they use programs they did not create – like flickr, tumblr, facebook, youtube, etc).

  5. Interesting. Program or be Programmed.. I wonder if he considers himself programmed in the English language?

  6. @infinitemanifest I believe technology is bias as it still has a human element, it is made by humans for humans and humans have been and always will be bias. Self-realisation through awareness is key however, programming is the new way of expressing ones self. Of course we as humans can choose not to express in this manner but, and I think this is one of Douglas's point, people choose to ignore or are afraid of using new methods of self expression. I think it's sad.

  7. I need to learn to program… I don't wanna be programmed…

    I thought there were 26 letters in the alphabet, not 22…

  8. @Wulfereene Well – that's if you assume that this programming class has actually 'done the work' as psychologists like to say – of really handling, understanding and moving through all that painful rejection. If they have not – then power is not at all a good thing for them to wield. Then again Star Trek and Star Wars handle these themes fairly well ;D

    "I am your father Luke"

  9. @infinitemanifest I think he means particular implementations have the bias of their creators. I for instance hate the phone – systems I create simply may not be integrated with telephony as it's a technology I find distasteful….

  10. He's talking about 2 things:

    Starting off he's saying we don't understand the programs (religion, politics, gov't structures) upon which our society exists. Then lets understand them!

    With regard to the coder's role being similar to a great author or leader I must disagree. Unlike great literature, or a moving oration, it's disposable, infinitely replaceable, & nothing more than a workable blueprint. Unlike a book, or speech, code is useless without all of us. *WE* program the programmer.

  11. Not to mention the $100G+ salary with a B.S. or B.A.! The Mercedes doesn't hurt either, but it's not really about those things now is it? They are just secondary perks.

  12. Yes, he's so right, excellent. Now do a search for 'itocracy' and see where we're *going*. In short, the recent arrival of the social networked internet and communications has put is n a new era of fundamental global democratic community. It's so breathtakingly good, as you'll see in the vid, that it is actually quite likely to put an end not only to now out-of-date TV, but to end war. Have a look at the video and tell your friends. Comment on it pro/con if you like. Some good news for a change.

  13. Part I

    This guy is an idiot. His knowledge of history is false. The fact that he makes it Israel-centric with its 22 characters is bizarre. China's civilization was already in place (Sun Tzu had already written The Art of War [550 BC] 200 years before the Torah showed up in written format [circa 300 BC]). Confucianism existed for 200 years before the Torah.

  14. Part II about this idiot

    The Chinese language had 5,000 characters. The Hebrews were running around the desert of Israel on donkeys living in mud huts while China was inventing steel and foundries and furnaces, and building architecturally innovative pagodas. Get this: China had drydocks for ship-building 100 years before the Torah came out.

  15. For Peter Coffin …regarding programming being an art vs. it being a craft. What is writing? Art or craft? Does your answer change if we're talking about writing a novel vs. writing a manual? How about drawing? Schematic or museum piece? How about something a little harder to judge: music? Underscore for a commercial or love song for your girlfriend? Art or craft? Each of these can be both. Same goes for software. Write for money, write for love. The best is art AND craft.

  16. @mx4px I would describe all of the things you mentioned being both then; writing, the Craft is what one does to produce the Art that comes from that Craft.
    the process is the Craft, the outcome is the Art….
    hadn't thought of it interms of manuals, but that would go across the board, possibly in many instances continuing with the old saying that it (art, beauty) is in the eye of the beholder.

  17. It can be considered both depending on what approach the individual has.

    Art is an expression of creativity and programming can be like that well. But it can also be a craft were a person learns skills and then applies them to given situations just like an electrician does.

  18. partly, yes. paintors could not paint with paintbrushed before someone made them, and those who don't know how to make paintbrushes are at the mercy of the ones who do, and so is their art in that medium. better building materials influenced architecture and better metal working influenced woodworking. parts of africa are working examples of this, where people get abused and programmed cause they don't know how to make drills and foundries and stuff.

  19. text gave us Judaism
    the printing press gave us Protestantism
    programming gave us atheism

    That's how it goes

  20. The people who write code are no more the elite than people who make anything else, like cheeseburgers. They are workers who are subservient to consumers or else they are irrelevant. Does Capitalism not apply to these people. Gutenberg published the Bible, a popular book at the time, not his own rantings.

  21. and still facebook was able to influence people's mood by filtering their newsfeeds.

    Comparing a cheeseburger to a logical structure, an ephemeral machine, is incorrect in more ways then one.
    And who makes the cheeseburger? the guy in the factory or the one baking it?

  22. Mr. Rushkoff, I don't think you mean that everyone should "be a programmer" because being a programmer implies achieving a level of competency that is actually and practically useful. Most people will never be able to achieve proficiency. Why? Because programming is an intellectual discipline, no different from mathematics, music or chess. Whether you can learn a discipline is highly dependent on whether you have the aptitude for it. Can anyone become a mathematician or a musician or a tournament chess player? Of course not. Anyone can learn the fundamentals of mathematics, music or chess, but without achieving proficiency, you simply cannot call yourself a mathematician, musician or chess player.

    Similarly for being a programmer. You can learn the fundamentals of programming (and I encourage everyone to do so), but unless you are competent at it, you will not be able to write good software, nor will you be able to read and understand a 10,000-line Java or C++ system that I've written. There are two things you must keep in mind: first, programming is an engineering discipline, and second, programming is hard. Crazy hard. I've been at it for over 20 years in my IT career, and I still find it hard. What chance does the common man have?

    Having said that, I think people should at least try to acquire a sense of what programming or software development is all about, because as you say it is absolutely central to our lives. People can study programming on their own or take a short course on it without the expectation that they will ever be good at it, i.e., without the intention of ever being a programmer. And that's perfectly alright.

  23. This clown assumes people are stupid. What he is referring to is this on going process called evolution and this evolution has been going on for thousands and thousands of years. Question authority. Try this… STOP watching television. With in a very short time you will realize that ninety eight percent of the BS on what I call " the robot programmer" is design to keep the goon squad under control with the main ingredient being fear and confusion. Blogs are no different. So give it a rest, Doug, and take a chill pill. You are suffering from the HUYA syndrome.

  24. You don't have to know the code since it is abstracted and we just need to be able to use the products people make such as new software.

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