Code Calling

I changed my relationship status on Facebook to, ‘It’s complicated.’

It took me three hours.

But my relationship with Social Media is complicated.  My ‘relationship status’ is not the first thing I think of telling someone when I meet them. For a start I’d need to feel I have some status in my relationship.

Facebook and Twitter are coded by people who think in a certain way; coders steeped in object-orientated programming languages and Boolean logic. To fit into the world that they’re forging, they ask us to think in the way they think; much in the same way that as writing and reading evolved it demanded that we construct our thoughts in particular ways. A verb essential in a sentence. To boldly keep infinitives unsplit. There was a right way and a wrong way to communicate and think. Especially in writing

This morning I bought two litres of Tip-ex. Big mistake.

Much like the act of walking, we accept that this translating of little bits of ink, of symbols, into cogent ideas and thoughts is a perfectly natural, if learnt, behaviour. Yet literacy used to be the preserve of an elite and almost died out over a thousand years ago.

Despite a bun fiasco, which would have seen him kicked out of The Great British Bake-off, King Alfred left a lasting legacy to literacy. In 890AD, he realised that there were fewer and fewer clergymen, the educators of the day, “who understand the English of their service or can translate a letter from Latin.”  Like many a taxi driver, he singled out one particular area for scorn. “There were so few [literate people] that I cannot remember one south of Thames,” he wrote.

He realised that education in literacy was paramount and to that end, between bashing Vikings, he began translating prayer books into English himself. He enthused the clergy to start teaching again and Britain lurched forward.

Now though, it seems, a new literacy chasm is opening up. Those who understand coding, the fundamentals that underlie our communication with apps and computers, and those of us who are left looking at our iphones and saying of coders, as Alfred predicted, “’Here may we still see their footprints, but we cannot follow them up and therefore have we lost both wealth and wisdom, since we would not incline our hearts to their example.’”

It is not that we all need to be coders. In the same way that, to be readers, we don’t all need to be novelists. We just need to understand coding and the way coders think.

Today there are super-coders commanding massive salaries, just as we readers have our J.K. Rowlings. There are even successful bad coders producing viruses, just as we have Jeffrey Archer. It’s not that we should all be able to code apps to keep up, just learn enough to understand how they work.

The purpose of, “<script> function myFunction() { document.getElementById(“demo”).innerHTML = Math.max(0, 150, 30, 20, -8); } </script>” may still elude you but the grammar doesn’t need to. In this digital age, we need to know, and our children need to know, how this works; because today’s haves and have-nots are tomorrows code and code-nots.


First published in