Is Knowing How To Code The “New Literacy”?
Should everyone learn to code? David Mattin, writing in The National:
“In the medieval German city of Mainz in 1436, Johannes Gutenberg set up a small print shop. Books were rare, precious objects in early 15th-century Europe. New volumes were usually made by scribes who copied text by hand, and a single book could take months to produce. But the new system Gutenberg had invented—utilising moveable, metal type—meant that in his little shop, he could print thousands of pages a day.
From Mainz, Gutenberg’s printing press had spread to 270 European cities by the end of the century. During that time, 20 million new books were printed. Widespread availability of cheap books led a new age of ideas: the Renaissance. Gutenberg’s machine had helped cause a revolution of world historical significance.
Today, we are amid another such revolution. Its point of origin is not Mainz, but the San Francisco Bay Area. And at its heart is not a human language but the language of computers. More specifically, the set of languages commonly known simply as ‘code.’
This year has seen the rise of a movement pushing a single idea: that all of us should learn computer code. Proponents say that we live in a world that, increasingly, consists of digital technology and virtual spaces. So if you’re unable to communicate with a computer—unable to instruct it to do anything that Microsoft or Apple hasn’t sanctioned for you—then you’re a bystander in this revolution. You’re the medieval refusenik who declined to learn to read. Inability to code—so runs the argument—is the new illiteracy.
Late last year, the learn-to-code movement gained a manifesto in the form of Program or Be Programmed, by the media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. ‘For the person who understands code,’ says Rushkoff, “the whole world reveals itself as a series of decisions made by planners and designers on how the rest of us should live.’” Read more here.
I’m skeptical. Wouldn’t learning to code be more akin to learning how the printing press works, as opposed to learning to read? But maybe I’m just a medieval refusenik. What do you think?