Douglas Rushkoff’s” book published in 2013, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for the Digital Age may prove to be one of the most important of the 21st century. Rushkoff points out the many ways in which modern life is influenced by the new reality of software, and “algorithms” that make decisions and calculate outcomes that used to be the sole skill of other humans.
The ramifications are much more far reaching than one may quickly surmise. And the access to what is going on in our machines is no longer available; when I got my first computers I had to learn that leaving out a letter in my “autoexec.bat” file would make my audio driver fail to load and I would have no sound.
The inexorable logic of this was hammered home –if the syntax of code was wrong –it would not work. Programming had a logic that is unarguable.
Technology Does The Thinking For Us
It is reminiscent of Byron Katie’s famous line – when you argue with reality you only lose 100% of the time.
But now these “apps” no longer reveal their code, and they control much of our lives with their ability to mimic human cognitive functions. This is the deep, dark secret of our current malaise and unemployment—it’s not like the machine age when manufacturing jobs were taken over by mass production, although robotics is an exploding aspect of this phenomenon.
But the fact is that even the “thinking” and “response” functions previously performed by people can now be done more quickly, cheaply and even reliably by computers. That is why as jobs disappeared in the recession of 2008 and have come back in our current “recovery” the financial wizards of Wall Street have “streamlined” operations using the Internet to the point where middle class workers are no longer needed.
Some of this, of course, was the result of outsourcing or moving jobs to places like India or the Philippines. But the information age has had a much deeper and profound effect on average people –their ability to think and make decisions is no longer needed.
Do The Benefits Outweigh The Potential Costs?
As a computer user you have experienced the benefits first hand—you can make reservations, purchase items, and even complain without “interfacing” with a person.
The foundation for all of this is programming –or information processing –and when we use our cell phones, Rushkoff says in his book, we remain oblivious of the extent to which our lives are controlled by bits and bytes of code.
I believe there is also a deep upside to this –if we begin to fathom what it takes to program we actually approach the level of impersonal intelligence that manifests as life.
DNA, the instruction set for our bodies, operates as a program –with the syntax of how four chemicals, represented in code by the letters A, C, T and G, instruct the harmonious functions of our bodies. As Eckhart Tolle has said, the intelligence that runs our bodies is far greater than the egoic chatter of our small minds.
This recognition could move us beyond religious and tribal differences as we see that everything is essentially information –as quantum physics has already suggested. But in the meantime we and particularly our children become intimately comfortable and familiar with the process of computing that works symbolically, logically and inexorably: software.
Understand Code To Decode Reality
Familiarity with code opens us to the reality of other ways of thought and higher intellectual capability on many levels.
Ultimately it can also lead to unraveling some of our own inner programming and conditioning, as we see that so much of our habitual thoughts and actions are the result of imprinting by our families, schools and eventually our corporations.
That is why when a friend of mine bought his sons a new product I was so excited – Kano is a computer kit that teaches kids how to code, in addition to making them thoroughly familiar with how the actual computer works.
When I was young I was intrigued by the “crystal” radio kits that allowed us to build our own receiver and begin to understand electronics.
To me this new kind of “toy” kit is potentially much more significant. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots on this planet is growing rapidly and it’s not just education; rather the means for creating software and the decisions as to how it is implemented is in the hands of the few who understand both its power and have the capability to program.
Some of these are computer scientists and some are financial wizards and corporate executives who now possess extraordinary power because they are influencing millions who remain oblivious to the actual inner workings of the devices they are using.
Take just one aspect – the suggestibility and hypnotic effect of computer graphics and advertising.
This is operating in our brains as software (conditioning) in ways that we can barely comprehend, unless we begin to fathom how and if the function in code works. When we begin to realize that information, or intelligence, can operate upon our minds according to strictly prescribed instructions made by others, we think we have free will.
Certainly learning to code can lead to more lucrative careers for some of the kids who may use a kit like the Kano.
Educated Consumers Of Information
But as Rushkoff says in his book, it goes way beyond that. We need to be more educated consumers of information, just as we need to be more educated consumers of our food or even our air.
Information, it turns out, is the energetic foundation of life and the universe itself – of all reality.
Those who remain oblivious to its workings will find themselves under the control of others and no longer able to make any autonomous conscious decisions.
And as genetics allows us to evolve in new directions as a species, those who are ignorant of the reality of code and logical structures that determine our biology and mental processes will be left behind, either to become extinct or to be the new underclass or serfs of a new digital feudal society.