Why bother learning to read 800 years ago? What few books that existed back then were way beyond the means of the common person, and contained little information of use to everyday life. The one book that the typical westerner might imagine needed access to was the bible, and this was denied to them. The bible was the property of the church, chained down so that the non-clergy couldn’t get their hands on it.
And then came the Reformation. This was the point at which learning and the study of ancient languages came together with the impact of the printing press. Moreover, it was advantageous for some German princes to espouse the cause of the reformers, not because they agreed with the ideas, but because it gave them, some political leverage in the power-politics of C16 Europe.
The printing press meant that there were books, and people had the opportunity to read them. No doubt there were many at the time who said that there was no point learning to read, there were already priests who could do that for them.
Fast forward to almost the present.
In the 1980s computers first made their way into peoples homes. Everyone had the opportunity to learn how to program computers: the British Government and the BBC felt this was such a useful skill they produced a scheme to help people to do just that.
All went well until programming fell out of fashion in the 1990s. It was felt to be too hard and, when you got down to it, unnecessary. After all, the argument went, you don’t need to know how the internal combustion engine works in order to drive a car.
Is that really true, though? You know that a car needs fuel, that you can’t let it get too hot, you know that you need to check the oil. You know where the engine is in the car, and you probably know someone who can fix it when it goes wrong.
Learning to program computers is important. Not everyone needs to program computers, it’s true, but everyone should have an understanding about how the machines actually work, and this understanding comes from knowing how to program. If you can’t program, how do you if someone is telling you the truth when they say that computers can’t do something? If you don’t understand coding, how do you know that you’re not being lied to about the capabilities of the technology that drives the 21st Century? Facility in coding is labelled as the sign of the geek, the nerd, the unwashed, friendless teenage boy. It’s certainly not for the cool kids, or girls, or those over thirty, or those who are too busy doing something else.
Or is that just what they want you to believe?
Everyone needs to know about coding. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should be aware that what’s happening inside your smartphone is not magic.
If you don’t, you’re handing back control of your life to a new set of priests.