Is coding the new literacy?

There’s a conversation going on right now in the tech-industry neighborhoods of the web about the, for want of a better word, evangelistic movement to teach coding to everyone. Indeed, it’s a conversation that’s been going on for years now – but the recent writing I’ve read on it from the folks who are the movement’s most ardent defenders seem to hinge on some odd assertions.

I dipped into this subject a week or so ago when a friend linked to Quincy Larson’s article “Please do learn to code” on Medium.com’s freeCodeCamp site. Here’s what seems to be Larson’s thesis statement: “[P]rogramming is how humans talk to machines. … For computers to succeed at the jobs we’ve assigned them, they need us humans to give them extremely clear instructions. That means coding. Coding isn’t some niche skill. It really is ‘the new literacy.’” He then goes on to more or less restate:

Once a history-shaping new technology comes out of the genie bottle, you can’t put it back. This was true for airplanes, antibiotics, and nuclear warheads. And it’s true for microprocessors, the internet, and machine learning.

Those who adapt to these permanent waves of changes flourish. Those who shrug them off — or fail to even realize they exist — asymptotically approach irrelevance.

Coding is the new literacy. Like reading was in the 12th century, writing was in the 16th century, arithmetic was in the 18th century, and driving a car was in the 20th century.

It’s a bold assertion (and bolded in the original as well), and it feels compelling. But is it the right analogy? Is coding actually the new literacy? Well, not the way I understand the word.

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