Douglas Rushkoff on Program or Be Programmed

This morning on the way into work I listened again to the interview CBC Spark's Nora Young did with Douglas Rushkoff as part of their Summer audio blog. I recommend everyone listen to this interview. Greatly simplifying, he speaks about how we live in a programmed world, and that people who don't understand at least a little bit about programming will not be able to be full participants.

He wasn't suggesting we all become programmers, even those who don't do it for a living. He made an analogy with the automobile: He isn't suggesting we become auto-mechanics when we only need to learn how to drive, but that we learn enough to become drivers rather than simply passengers.

Nora and Douglas discussed how computer literacy should become part of education, just as human languages and mathematics are part of education. He suggests right after we learn long division (around grade 5), the first algorithm, we then learn how to teach a computer how to do long division. Not only will this forever change the student's relationship with programmed technology, but it also turns a moment when we are passively executing an algorithm to one where we are given back a feeling of control.

I believe such basic literacy is required to ensure that Canada remains a driver of our own economy rather than becoming only passengers, especially since we may lack enough knowledge to recognize who the driver is.

My experience with federal politicians and other policy makers have suggested this basic literacy doesn't yet exist. Mr. Rushkoff is skeptical that the west will recognize the need for this critical literacy until after major disasters (he spoke of foreign programmers bringing down a bank). I worry that the disaster will be far worse than a simple economic meltdown, given how much of the governance of our lives have been turned over to programmers without any understanding of the impact.

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