Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Possibly-controversial-but-definitely-brainstir-material post from last week by Tim May entitled Don't Panic - Not All Jobs Are Headed Overseas.

I find this bit particularly interesting:

"If students don't know even how to frame a simple argument, how to consider alternatives, how to refute or falsify assumptions, it's pretty hopeless to try to train them to be Java or PHP programmers. Maybe doing cookie-cutter Web pages, but nothing very substantial and nothing with much of a future. (As the many "Webmasters" at companies discovered in the late 90s, when Web page creation tools got more sophisticated; turned out that memorizing a bunch of HTML wasn't needed.)

Overheard many times at the local malls:

"Like, you know, and then she goes "Huh?", and then I go "Way!", and it was, like, weird!. And then I was like _so_..."

This doesn't translate well into computerese. Not the words, and especially not the stream-of-consciousness mental process. (I read an analysis of this kind of valspeak, and its isomorphic ghettospeak versions, with the conclusion that many of today's kids are "replaying movies in their head," hence the blow-by-blow recitation of what people said, in fragmentary form. Logic, summaries, induction, deduction, and analysis are mostly absent from their speech.

I suppose it's one of those things I've "felt" before, but not really thought about - the possible (and plausible) interplay and dependences between speech, thought, and programming. I remember being struck the first time I saw some decent Perl scripting as to how many parameters the coder checked for, and the checking for the sheer amount of possible permutations that may crop up, and now I think that the same technique should be applied in any kind of structured discussion or situation - i.e., what other influences are there that haven't been thought of. Whether or not my speech reflects this, I'm not sure (although I think it may, to an extent).

So is it possible to improve any one of these aspects of ourselves by concentrating on another? Can, for instance, a person improve their real-world logical deduction by learning to code? Is a person with an assembled grasp of a particular language any better at thinking through concepts or arguments?

Oh, there's also some stuff about outsourcing in there. Maybe the US (and the UK) will suffer, economy-wise, as a result of having a "dumb" culture. IMHO, we are not taught to think for ourselves as such, we are taught to do (and to follow) - that, I think, is an implied part of our current situation and our values, unfortunately. So perhaps it makes sense that people in other countries that aren't necessarily submitted to the same levels of "culture dumbing" could overtake in us in terms of not just economic attraction, but also inventiveness.

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