A Lapse Into Philosophy and the Meaning of Programming

Being an old baby-boomer brings one a certain perspective to programming. Some my age started way back in the 60’s with their COBOL, assembler, and Fortran. Back in the 60’s, I had never knowingly come within miles of an actual computer. And being of a distinctly lower-class (economically, that is) background, I found computers interesting, but there was little chance of them becoming¬† the center of my life. Of course, the only lives centered around computers then were the programmers and manufacturers of them. Now, of course, anyone who wants to can program one. Even doing an Excel spreadsheet is programming of a sort.

But is being a programmer automatically a good thing? I would submit that whether you are a good programmer is determined by more than your ability to program. I believe it is also determined by what you program.

Now, we will grant that being a programmer of business programs is not the most exciting of occupations. But at least the program, if it is written to perform effectively in its context, may be considered to perform a useful service. That is what programs were originally designed to do. (Some might quibble that ENIAC, arguably the first electronic computer, was prompted by the need to perform calculations of artillery shell trajectories; it was useful, but some would point it out as another use of science in the service of warfare (see atomic bomb), which they would consider a dubious use of science.)

But is all programming good? I submit that the answer is no, even if it performs as designed. Back in 1982 there was a game called “Custer’s Revenge”. The point of the game was a naked General Custer “running across a desert obstacle course to reach and ravage an Indian maiden”. (August¬†30, 1982, issue of Advertising Age) Was there any redeeming social value in that game? I think not. Since then the computer graphics have improved, but from various news reports and reviews of computer games, I have concluded that the content of many games has not improved - only deteriorated, along with the general state of society. Sadly programmers, for all their cleverness and intelligence, have contributed to the moral decline of society in general.

And the programming need not be lascivious in nature to have a negative effect. Gratuitous violence hardens young people to the significance of the real thing, the hurtfulness and pain that violence in reality causes. Also,  many video games are designed to be played for hours on end, sometimes over a period of days. Is this the kind of thing that young people and adolescents need? About the only time such a self-centered pursuit would be good would be if the neighborhood was so bad that it would be dangerous to go outside.

Perhaps that is why I cringe a little when I realize that there are college degrees in videogame programming, here for example. There may be good uses for video games, but one suspects that educational video games are not where the big bucks are. How many young programmers will go into video game programming because of the good it will do for mankind? Probably not many.

Hopefully, if you are starting to program now, you want to learn for the fun of it and perhaps the intellectual challenge. Once you gain the skills, for the good of all - including yourself- be careful about what you choose to program.

One Response to “A Lapse Into Philosophy and the Meaning of Programming”

  1. Work at homes moms Says:

    Sandra Kellog wrote about it lately but i think what you wrote is much better.

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