J. D. Zamfirescu says that we’re moving toward a society made up of mostly programmers:
During the industrial revolution, the appearance of new tools of automation demanded workers with the skills to use those tools. The skills required for the computer revolution will involve the use of software and, increasingly, the creation of new software. We’re already flying down this road. One day, we will all be programmers.
I don’t see this happening, and I think the comparison with the Industrial Revolution is wrong.
This morning I woke up and made coffee. But not really. I ground the beans with a grinder I didn't make. I used a French press that I bought (in Paris of all places). I didn’t even harvest or roast the coffee. Bought that, too.
I drove to work in a car that I did not manufacture, made of parts from all over the world—none of which I know how to repair.
At work, I sat down at a computer made of components that also came from all of the world and were assembled in a way that I would never be able to replicate.
I used and took for granted all these things for a reason.
They made it possible for me to do a job that very few other people understand. Few people have heard of actuaries. Fewer know what they do. Even less know what I do.
I don’t know what you do either. But I’m betting your day wasn’t that different.
The lonely but prosperous specialist
I agree with Zamfirescu that the Industrial Revolution increased employment for people willing to assemble things in exchange for money, but it did not homogenize the workforce—certainly not long term. Nor did the advent of cars turn everyone into mechanics.
Instead, as our civilization pops through each technology-powered tipping point, we, the users of technology, become increasingly different. We specialize.
Technology allows us to do stuff other just make technology.
I would argue that standards of living generally increase as the number of specialists in a population increases. Though we know less and less about what we all do, we benefit economically from the fact that we’re all doing different stuff.
The arguable downside is that people know less and less about how to make the tools they employ. A specialist cedes a lot of power to those who make his tools.
The software industry has a bright future, and it will probably increase demand for people that know how to write code. Programmers may even attain some kind of social exclusivity as pillars that bolster the civilization we’re creating.
But I’m more excited about the opportunities software will create for people who make other things with software. I’m curious just how different, and great, we can become.
[Zamfirescu article via Justin Blanton]