Must We All Become Computer Programmers?

(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

Relax: nobody is going to ask you this, nor should they. It is foolish to assume, as many Free Software activists more or less unconsciously do, that you should directly contribute in some way to develop the software which you happen to use. The idea of contributing to the community is wonderful, but restricting its definition of community to all and only the contributing users of some software program would be ridiculous or elitist.

Users or programmers?

What do we want our children, students or country to become? Software end users or software developers? It would be useless, counterproductive and terribly boring if everybody became a programmer, but is it still possible to remain ignorant users? Unfortunately, the easy answer, that is “of course, since I just want to ignore what software is” is no longer viable today, especially for responsible parents and teachers. In their shoes, it would be like asking: “Do I want (can I afford/should I bother) to teach my children or students to write, or can I just tell them to hire somebody to do it whenever they need it?”.

In the workplace, continuing to completely ignore what Digital Dangers are would be as safe as accepting an invitation from some consultants to focus on the core business without bothering anymore to read, write or multiply by ten, since they can do it for a fee. The Internet, word processing and software in general are, de facto, being added to and sometimes replacing reading and writing as the basic cultural and survival tools in modern society; there is no choice: we, or at least our children, all have to learn to use the basic tools by ourselves, very much as we would not accept paying somebody else just to read us the grocery list, and understand what these tools actually are.

Technology by itself will never make our life better, but it has also become something whose control is not to be delegated, lest we lose our freedom, or the possibility of gaining or preserving it.

So, while it is not necessary to all become programmers, it is essential to be able to recognize incompetent reporting in the news and, generally, take informed decisions where technology is concerned. Even if the only thing to decide is which political candidate is best suited to fighting Digital Dangers on your behalf. There is no need to subscribe to all the software magazines one can find to do this: reading and using this book and the associated online guides, from the one listing bad technology journalism to the database of Digitally Free Schools, is an excellent start!