What are we? Where are we going?
The title of this blog post is taken from part of Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece.
This painting was used in a meditation on the urgence of considering the meaning of the “human resource”, specifically in a context where teachers are to engage and cultivate human potential (Hélène Trocmé-Fabre, Réinventer le métier d’apprendre, 1999, p. 60). Both schools and society should be taxed with the problem of how to permit and favorise conditions for the actualization of everyone, including those who have “not yet” begun (ibid.)
This post addresses my response to Gauguin’s orientational questions What are we? Where we are going? that will be expanded in my book project, which I hope will be a resource for self-actualization in the postdigital age.
What are we? Drawing on Kenneth Burke, but also Bernard Stiegler, we are tool and language- (symbol-) using beings, designed for freedom. As symbol-using beings, interpretation is important to our core.
Where are we going? I am still working on interpreting what “digital” means. To this end, and to supplement some of the resources I have shared, e.g. in my last post and syllabus draft, I am learning a lot from Adam Gordon Bell’s podcast, CoRecursive.
The podcast answers the question “where are we going” by exploring early and current programming in terms of what it teaches us, focusing on the value in all of the noise. It champions the meta-critique of tools, languages, and work culture; curiosity, and play in pursuit of ongoing learning.I like Adam’s “telling” of the code space and have learned the following about where we are in terms of actualizing self-realization. (The following listicle is a draft that is best skimmed.)
- Freedom and self-support
- Richard Hipp, of SQLite fame, urges freedom in programming and solving one’s own problems. This can be compared with what Sean Allen says about the importance of not being tied to vendors. The only use-case for not writing one’s own code is when a person wants machine learning “up and running”. None of the CoRecursive interviewees that I have listened to take this latter approach. And many of them (e.g. Joey Hess, Paul Lutus) practice(d) a self-sustainable lifestyle (fetching water, eating berries, etc.) Hipp notes that to overcome the current threat to freedom, the pain of extra work may be required.
- Allowing time for boredom and thinking
- There are great anecdotes about directing thought and taking time for thinking in Brian Kernighan’s interview, which I don’t want to spoil. Joey Hess also talks about the importance of allowing time to become bored: “if you’re bored, your going to think about something, and it’s not going to be like what’s on TV or where should I go to dinner or something it’s, it might be something interesting.” The struggle to make space for thought was noted.
- Ongoing learning, motivated by a wish to improve workflow and task realization
- Almost all interviewees share a passion for problem solving. Bruce Tate notes that while there must be pain involved in learning, finding time to re-expose oneself to the beginner’s mindset helps keep the mind limber and staves off burnout. But it is noted that not all employers are prepared to invest in the time and space required for creative growth. Yet the less generous industries are the ones pushing people to do the repetitive work that will likely be replaced by automatization.
- What do programmers want their non-programmer colleagues to know or understand?
- What would programmers want non-programmer colleagues to support?
I want to visibly draw attention to the digital tools used to make such pages. The page should make the non-programmer stop to think for a moment about the possibility for other interfaces, especially beyond the walled garden. For that reason, I am thinking of hosting it as a git ReadMe (cf. as Alex Schroeder explains). Git is attractive as I can edit it in Emacs, store it on my computer, and push it directly to a web-readable page (this avoids the hassle I still haven’t undertaken of figuring out how to bridge my textpattern blog to Emacs). But I don’t think git ReadMe supports the typeface needed for marginalia.
As an aside, I am also thinking of possibly hosting it on Gemini (also inspired by Alex, e.g.), readable via an HTTP portal.
If you have input on these three topics that you would like to share, please send me an email. Thank you!
What are we? To conclude, and to return to the beginning, when I look around I see a lot of people – like those mentioned above – who put in overtime to both continue to learn, make, and keep the fun in digital ventures. I hope that we, in 2022, will show ourselves to be tool, language (symbol)-using beings who co-create freedom in the always-unfinished business of self-actualization.
They will say it is careless, unfinished. It is true that one is not a good judge of one’s own work, nevertheless I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my previous work, but that I will never do anything better or even like it. Before dying I put into it all my energy, a passion so painful, in terrible circumstances, and a vision so clear, needing no correction, that the hastiness disappears and life surges up. It doesn’t smell of the model, of conventional techniques and the so-called rules from all of which I have always liberated myself, though sometimes with trepidation . . . – Paul Gauguin on his masterpiece Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? via
This post is subject to revision. First generated on 29 January.