Having little to no experience with coding before I came to CCT, I found this week’s exercise to be very informative. Being given the opportunity to test the parameters and abilities of coding was helpful in seeing how it is truly a language, replete with syntactic and grammatical rules. Misplacing a certain element of code or confusing one variable for another resulted in errors, much the same way our brain has trouble processing nonsensical linguistic structures. One cannot escape the computational history of coding, either. Concepts we’ve discussed in class that have computational uses, like “Boolean values” and binary, also have fundamental roles in the architecture of coding. By “de-blackboxing” the coding process, you’re able to see how coding is not some arduous task requiring specialized knowledge, but rather just an extension of our own language system and ways of thought. Yet again, we see that there is nothing alien about computing; it came from, and belongs to, us.
This was also evident from the readings this week, particularly Campbell-Kelly’s “Origin of Computing” and Dasgupta’s “It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science”. Plotting the computational lineage from the literal human computers of the 19th century to the exponentially smaller and faster machines we’re dealing with in this era was really cool. Seeing the various disciplines and influences that shaped the history and future of computing made me wonder what the computational landscape would look like if certain events, like WW2 or Babbage abandoning the Difference Engine, had never happened.
After reading the article “Computational Thinking” by Jeanette Wing, I started to think of coding as a mechanism through which computational thinking can be wired and framed on our minds. The absolutely imperative role that computers play in not only our daily lives, but also the long-scale trajectory of our species, has been more or less accepted by the public at large, yet coding is still seen as a relatively esoteric field. The bottlenecking of the functional knowledge required to operate these incredibly important cognitive technologies seems to me an undesirable situation. So I share Wing’s insistence on placing computational thinking on the same level as the traditional Three R’s of education. That model is from the turn of the 19th Century, and we’ve quite clearly gone through multiple socio-technological revolutions since then, so the de-blackboxing of these systems and technologies should be an educational imperative. I believe coding should be to the 21st century what literacy was to the 20th.
- Jeannette Wing, “Computational Thinking.” Communications of the ACM 49, no. 3 (March 2006): 33–35
- Martin Campbell-Kelly, “Origin of Computing.” Scientific American 301, no. 3 (September 2009): 62–69.
- Subrata Dasgupta, It Began with Babbage: The Genesis of Computer Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.