Code Acts: How Computer Code influences the Way We Perceive the World
This is a fascinating essay. Some of it goes too far for me (e.g., that code “produces new forms of algorithmic identity”), but the section I quote below is making a deep comment relative to the arguments we’ve been making here about “computing for everyone.”
Why should everyone know about computing? I’ve argued about the value of computational literacy as literacy — a way of expressing and notating thought. I’ve also argued about the value of computer science as science — insight into how the world we inhabit works. This part of the essay is saying something more generative — that code provides metaphors for the way we think about the world, so not knowing about code thus limits one’s ability to understand modern culture and science. The idea is akin to computational thinking, but more about cultural practices than cognitive processes.
Code is the language of computation; it instructs software how to act. But as the instructions written down in code travel out into the world, organized in the algorithmic procedures that make up software, it also has a significant influence on everything it touches. The result is a profound softwarization of society as software has begun to mediate our everyday ways of thinking and doing.
For example, software and its constituent codes and algorithms have become a metaphor for the mind, for ideology, for biology, for government, and for the economy, and with the rapid proliferation of software as an interface to the world, code has been seemingly naturalized in collective life. Computer code has also been described as a kind of law, or the set of rules and constitutional values that regulate the web. The idea that code is law suggests that choices about how to code the web will define the controls and freedoms that are built or programmed into it.
These ways of looking at code demonstrate that code is much more than a language for instructing computing machines. Instead, we need to understand code as a system of thought that spills out of the domain of computation to transform and reconfigure the world it inhabits.