Brave Old World

I find it strange to read an article that I completely and utterly disagree with. It’s like being afforded a glimpse into an alien mind.

Dylan Evans published an article in the Guardian called Smash The Windows (I love the title - not for its anti-Microsoft threat but because it happens to be the name of an Irish jig). In it, he argues that computer literacy is as important these days as reading and writing. No argument from me there.

Evans goes even further though and says that not only should everyone be able to use computers, everyone should be able to write code:

“In 50 years, perhaps much less, the ability to read and write code will be as essential for professionals of every stripe as the ability to read and write a human language is today. If your children’s children can’t speak the language of the machines, they will have to get a manual job - if there are any left.”

He goes on to attack the Windows operating system for “tricking” us into believing that computers are all about icons and clicking instead of lines of text. I wonder what he’d make of OS X: a Unix based operating system with an oh-so-pretty graphical user interface that let’s people accomplish complex tasks without knowing anything of the command line.

This guy definitely needs a history lesson in the evolution of the WIMP (Windows Icons Menus Pointers) approach and how it revolutionised the ease of using computers. Evans seems to hanker for the good ol’ days when the word “computer” denoted someone capable of programming inscrutable machines before those meddling kids at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center went and spoilt everything:

“It is only by seeming to go backwards, to the way we interacted with computers before Windows came along, that we can go forwards. Remember DOS or the ZX-80, or the old BBC computer?”

Boy, do I ever! I also remember how glad I am not to have to interact with a modern machine in the same way as I was forced to interact with those venerable ancestors of today’s computers.

Evans anticipates my response and sets up these questions:

“Isn’t this too much of a burden for the average computer user? Shouldn’t we try to force computers to adapt to us as much as possible by giving them user-friendly interfaces and hiding their internal workings? Shouldn’t we be able to get on with our jobs without worrying about what is going inside the black box?”

To which, I would respond “Yes! Yes! A thousand times, YES!”.

Ah, but Evans has a very clever and clearly reasoned argument against that:

“If that is your attitude, fine. If you want to remain inside the dream world of The Matrix, that’s your choice.”


Come to think of it, that’s not a very clever or clearly reasoned argument at all. If I didn’t know better, I would say it sounds like petulant name-calling.

Luckily, I’m fairly sure that most people reading Smash The Windows would be as horrified as I am by its elitist, machine-centric worldview. They might also, like me, wonder how this guy ever managed to get a book published.

I’m just glad that he decided to take up a career in Evolutionary Psychology rather than, say, usability testing for the web. If someone had trouble using a website, he would undoubtably deduce that the fault lay not with the website but rather with the user who was clearly too lazy and/or stupid.

Hmmm… I wonder what he does when he has a problem with his car? Surely he is intimately familiar with the workings of the internal combustion engine.

Have you published a response to this? :