Should you learn to program?

“The difference between a computer programmer and a user is much less like that between a mechanic and a driver than it is like the difference between a driver and a passenger. If you choose to be a passenger, then you must trust that your driver is taking you where you want to go. Or that he’s even telling you the truth about what’s out there. You’re like Miss Daisy, getting driven from place to place. Only the car has no windows and if the driver tells you there’s only one supermarket in the county, you have to believe him. The more you live like that, the more dependent on the driver you become, and the more tempting it is for the driver to exploit his advantage”

– Douglas Rushkoff

Rushkoff may appear to be making an argument commonly made by those who see the world through the prism of their own particular expertise. The mathematician will argue we should all learn to think more mathematically. The scientist, we should be more scientific in our world view. The artist, philosopher, psychologist, and so on, in turn might argue that in order to make sense of things, you need to be able to understand the world through the tools of their particular craft. But does Rushkoff’s claim have more to it in this particular technological age? Is there a special need to learn programming, in the same way we accept everyone should learn some maths; how to read and write? To answer this question, I consider the core difference in learning to program versus other technical endeavours, examining one way in which this might change our way of comprehending the world.

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