“All you need to know thus far is that Ruby is basically built from sentences. They aren’t exactly English sentences. They are short collections of words and punctuation [that] encompass a single thought. These sentences can form books. They can form pages. They can form entire novels, when strung together. Novels that can be read by humans, but also by computers.” _why
Over the past few years, as I slowly learn the syntax of code, I constantly come back to its relationship to its what constitutes it: natural language. A series of dictates to do something. And the hurdle for me is I already know how to talk. The difficulty of learning code, for many of us, is divorcing known language use and grammar from speech. Speaking to a machine in one of its native tongues means unlearning systems that speak to humans. I often feel lost in the complexity of the task.
I probably won’t abandon the task. As with anything in a state of becoming, the discussion of what our interactions with media should look like and be like is in a curious spot. In the past year, there are more apparent instances of a sympathetic outreach to non-programmers to learn what is under the hood. Sites like Codeacademy and treatises like Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed enable the user to and make plain the case for why we should have a basic knowledge of the syntax. I’ve learned to abandon the unscalable wall of hand-coding; the confluence of existing systems is meant to be used and allow for new permutations. It is more important that the task is executed and communicated well than that I re-invented the wheel. I guess what I see is a desire to make this all more human, to bring these engineered technologies back to a physical body and a psychology of speaking to one another.
Language has always been a clunky technology to begin with. We use our oral capabilities with some visual representation to describe a complexity of bodily, mental and emotional responses. To reconfigure this organic, evolving and somewhat haphazard system into the virtual realm for us to move through cannot be an easy task. But it is certainly an exciting prospect.
Annie Lowrey does a far more eloquent job than I in talking about the sympathetic development of code for the layman in her article on a disappeared Ruby hacker over at Slate. Very worth the read.