May 12, 2003
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From the New York Times, a curious report: 'New Media': Ready for the Dustbin? It's triggered, in part, by a NRC Council study on IT, Innovation and Creativity that it quotes as saying, "As long as the tools required to produce computer-mediated work are programming tools, the result will be programmer-created design." (Thanks, Diane)

"There is a great distance from the paintbrush or piano to programming in C++."

This rings the chimes, more baldly than is customary, on that old refrain: scientists are subhuman. The special knowledge that programmers possess unfits them for life; their work must naturally be ugly and pointless. I suppose this the revenge of the arts for all those bad grades in school. But it's wrong, unworthy.

The distance between the paintbrush and programming in C++ is that, with a brush, you can rationalize mistakes. That's all. The distance between the piano and C++ is.... what, precisely? Dexterity, I suppose.

Any tool for creating computer mediated work will either be a programming tool, or it will be a crippled toy. This isn't an opinion or a prejudice; it's a fact. You can wish it weren't so. I used to wish that I could play second base for the White Sox. I used to wish that I could be a chemist without having to study partial differential equations. I wish water weren't quite so wet. Programming is choosing what the computer shall do; if you want to create a computer mediated work, you have to choose what the computer is to do. (You could wander the streets looking for a computer that happens to be doing what you want, I suppose, but that doesn't sound like much fun.)

We can work to make programming better. We can learn how to do it, and how to teach it. But, if you want to foster creativity by pretending that creative people shouldn't know what they clearly need to know, you're on the wrong track.