Sunday, October 17, 2010

Douglas Rushkoff says "Program or Be Programmed"

In his latest book, media guru Douglas Rushkoff (left) says that in the current digital landscape you can either create software or be software - program or be programmed.

Just as it is important to be able to write as well as read, Rushkoff argues that too many people have worked with software created by others for so long that they don't know how to create their own software. In his new book, Program or Be Programmed (right), he provides 10 principles to help us rethink our relationship with the software we use. The 10 "commands" amount to an ethical manifesto for gaining control and humanizing our technology. They provide lessons for how to live a humane life in a digital world.

Rushkoff has been writing about the interface between people and media technology for a long time and is known for getting it right when it comes to understanding the implications of technology well before others have been able to see past their initial negative reactions to anything new.

Rushkoff says kids can easily learn programming like they learn any language and, rather than just learning to use off-the-shelf software they should learn computer languages and learn how to write programs. He says, "Programming is the sweet spot, the high leverage point in a digital society. If we don't learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves."

Technologies have certain biases that shape our thinking if we don't understand their underlying structure and meaning. Rushkoff points to other example in which we failed to see the biases of the technology. We think that the development of the automobile lead to the creation of urban sprawl and suburbia when, in actuality, the suburbs, and the publicly funded highways leading to them, were actually created to sell automobiles.

To adults, learning the language of programming can seem pretty daunting but for children, if they grow up in a culture of programming, they can learn it as easily as a Chinese child learns to speak Mandarin. Seymour Papert's "Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas" promoted this idea way back in the 1960s. Mitchell Resnick and the folks at MIT's Lifelong Kindergarden developed the programming language "Scratch" to help young people create their own video games and John Maeda wrote "Design by Numbers" to encourage artists to learn to program.

Perhaps it's time for design educators to help create a generation of truly literate digital natives who can not only read but write in the language of computers. The next generation of designers can not only be game players but game changers.

Click on the heading above to check out Rushkoff's website to learn more and to see a short video about the book.

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