This will be a brief posting as I am out of the country right now, sailing along what used to be medieval trade routes and learning all about trading patterns, trading wars, and cultural clashes of nearly a millennium ago. So I am learning a lot about the economic climate that surrounded the literature of the time, which I know fairly well. And enjoying every minute of this vacation!
Perhaps somewhat incongruously, I brought along reading not about medieval trade but about very contemporary technological issues, in the form of Clive Thompson’s new book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World. I’ve been following Thompson’s work for a long time since he was an early writer in Wired, and I very much admire his Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, which seemed to me an astute and prescient read especially of how young people are using technology today.
I’m reading the new book slowly, enjoying jumping around in it (the chapter “The ENIAC Girls Vanish” is a favorite!) and then going back to re-read passages that stuck with me. In short, Thompson takes us inside the world of the people who have changed our world dramatically in the last couple of decades; coders, he says, are “the most quietly influential people on the planet.” Thompson’s detailed and intensive interviews with such coders helps us to see well beyond the stereotype of the young white male slouched over a computer and wearing a hoodie. Here we meet the architects (including, to my delight, a woman) of Facebook’s news feed, a revolutionary set of code that changed communicative practices forever, exploring the psychology and mindset of this group, with their near obsessive attention to efficiency and speed. He also reveals their (growing) concerns over ethical issues, including the need to engage many more people of color in this work. Thompson sees these concerns as pressing, but he is generally optimistic about the future of code and coding, noting the need for what he calls “blue collar coding,” that is the coding done by ordinary people to help improve their everyday lives.
I still have about a third of this fascinating book to read, but already I feel I understand the culture of coding in a more nuanced and helpful way. So I’ll keep reading as I sail along the trade routes of the middle ages. Happy reading to you too!
Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1839406 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License