Power and Access

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that the thing that got me back trying to learn on CodeAcademy last summer was marathonning the TV show Silicon Valley. I had taken an introductory programming class and absorbed enough HTML as a child to ensure that my Neopets shop was a mess of color and autoplay music that I hope to never lay eyes on again, but I still didn’t feel like I had any concept of how anything digital works. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end (while not the most glamorous activity, not far off from what I do anyway) and ending up with some sort of functional digital creation is a concept that seems so close to the world I inhabit but so far out of my understanding that I had to try to figure it out. silicon valley hbo ap.jpgI have yet to teach myself fluency in any computer languages, but the more I read about the culture of programming, the more I see that the sense of removal I have from the basic structure of the things I use every day is by design.

The web is designed to be used with ease by people who have very little understanding of how it works. Its aesthetics are drawn from the analog world, with buttons that look like physical buttons and text layouts made to work intuitively for people who are used to print. This ease of use is natural to an extent. Designers want to give the web a universality, open to anyone who may not have the time or resources to learn a whole new system of content. It makes sense for the transition from analog media to digital to be as seamless as possible.

However, there are other reasons to keep the front end of the web simple; by keeping the inner workings of the internet further away from public understanding, those who control the web keep the power that their knowledge gives them. There are many resources available for people to learn coding and programming, many of them freely available on the internet. Yet, more and more services also cater to users who want to create things on the web without knowing coding at all. This very platform, wordpress, allows users to create websites off templates. Services like Squarespace and Mailchimp similarly advertise their ease of use and functionalities available with “no coding required” or “regardless of skill level.” These are not implicitly bad things. Easier access at every level helps to erase barriers created by privilege. But they should not come at the cost of discouraging people from also learning coding and programming. Access to that knowledge is available and even more important for people to learn to truly level the playing field and freely distribute the power of the internet.

-Amelia Burger





~ by ameliaburger on March 28, 2016.

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