Ideation is the new manufacturing: Then programming is advanced manufacturing

February 20, 2014 at 1:18 am 5 comments

Interesting economic argument being made in the below piece — that we don’t have large numbers of manufacturing jobs, but we have large numbers of jobs that involve creating using digital technologies.

In the start of our Media Computation book, we make the argument that comes after this.  Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and Audacity are wonderful tools that can do a lot — if you know how to use them.  Knowing programming gives you the ability to make with digital media, even if you don’t know how to get the tools to do.  Knowing programming lets you say things with digital media, even if the tools don’t support it.

“We have moved from the industrial age to the knowledge economy,” said Facebook’s CIO Tim Campos at the HP Discover conference in Barcelona last month. An economy, that is, in which a company’s “core asset” lies not in material infrastructure but rather “the thoughts and ideas that come from our workforce.”

via Ideation is the new manufacturing | Al Jazeera America.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 23, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    This post has been bothering me for the past few days. While I believe that programming is a valuable skill (essential in many jobs), I don’t believe that it helps in a significant way with learning to use tools like Photoshop, Audacity, or Final Cut Pro—it may even make such tools harder to learn, as the interfaces are not based on the programmer-friendly APIs, but on gestures based on hand-eye coordination. (Photoshop Elements and Adobe Premiere Elements can both be somewhat frustrating to use with a trackpad, which makes precision gestures difficult.)

    I can’t see how knowing how to manipulate an image algorithmically has any value in learning to use the graphics design tool suites. Learning to make new tools, certainly, but not learning to use the existing ones.

    The argument for media computation can’t be based on it helping graphic designers manipulate images—the amount of programming they need to get beyond what off-the-shelf tools can do more easily is way beyond what any media computation course can provide.

    That’s not to say that media computation is a bad idea—providing a comprehensible but rich set of things to manipulate makes teaching programming clearer, and digital media are “cleaner” than robots (another rich set of things to manipulate in programs), as you don’t have to deal with real-world problems like non-deterministic behavior and discrepancies between what is requested and what is actually performed.

    Media computation can be (and has to be) justified based on how well students learn to program using it, rather than on mythical benefits to their ability to manipulate media afterwards.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 23, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      I don’t make the argument that learning media computation helps you in any way to use tools like Photoshop, Audacity, or Final Cut Pro. Rather, I argue that media computation allows students to manipulate media even if they can’t figure out how to make the tools work for them. We see that in our follow-up survey a year after taking the course. Students program things that they don’t know how to do with the tools. It’s not that the tools can’t do it. They don’t know how to make the tools do it (or they don’t know the appropriate tools), so they use programming.

      • 3. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 23, 2014 at 3:44 pm

        I suspect that they would get far more capability in manipulating media if the same effort put into learning programming had been put into learning the appropriate tools. The benefits of learning programming to manipulate media are just too small to be the primary justification.

        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  February 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm

          I am sure you’re right, if we could guess what tools they needed. The most common programming students do in the year after MediaComp (in the follow-up survey we did back in 2004) was to take a folder of images and sounds, process them in some ways, and create galleries of these in HTML. There are *lots* of tools that can do this, and it would certainly be easier to teach students any one of those tools than to them the equivalent Python. But which tool? And what happens when the tools change? Meanwhile, the Python for doing all that is pretty much the same today, 10 years later.

          If you read that Imagineering paper, you’ll see how students talk about the class. They mostly (~80%) of the respondents found it valuable, even if inefficient. Most of them say that it gave them a new way to think about the tools they use. That connects to the blog post — it’s a new perspective and a new capability to know to program.

          • 5. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 23, 2014 at 11:52 pm

            The value of the course is not in what they can do with images afterwards, but in how well it teaches ” a new way to think about the tools they use.” That is where the lasting value is.


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