Programming is a pop culture and what we should do about it

I want to talk about how programming is a pop culture. It's true, programming is a pop culture. There are big trends, fads, new frameworks coming out all the time. It's all about attention and getting mind share and people watching your media about what framework or what language to use, or how to program.


Hey, my name is Eric Normand. These are my thoughts on functional programming. I'm not going to talk about a theory on functional programming today. Today I'm going to talk about something else that's on my mind, probably a little less well-formed than that theory, which I will come back to that.

Right now I want to talk about how programming is a pop culture. It's true, programming is a pop culture. There are big trends, fads, new frameworks coming out all the time. It's all about attention and getting mind share and people watching your media about what framework or what language to use, or how to program.

Someone I really respect, Alan Kay, in one of his talks brought this up and that's where I first started thinking about it. He brings it up in kind of negative way in the sense that we don't have a real engineering discipline. If people are doing engineering, it's just by chance. It's not that they learned it from books.

It's that they happened to be naturals and learned it through mentoring. We don't have a real culture of building software. We basically don't know what we're doing yet. We're doing our best. We still haven't come up with the system that is going to take us where we're ultimately going with the software and stuff.

We don't understand our history. We don't learn about where the ideas came from and what ideas actually did already...aren't new. They seem new now, but people were working on them back in the '60s and '70s before the personal computer revolution.

He's got a really good point that we're all working on what is the coolest language. We base our practices on something we read on Hacker News. It's a really good point. I also think that there's a perspective shift is missing that. I don't think that it's a bad thing.

Well, let me put it this way, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, it's reality. We have to accept that the world is moving toward everything being pop culture, that things happen too quickly, that it's too easy to get distracted and have people's attention be pulled this way and that way. It's just the reality now.

When we were having longer form discussions in print, the advent of the printing press and books and how that really created science. The fact that you could print something and have it distributed. People have discussions over years through books. There was something magical about that period of time.

Books being a little slower and requiring a lot of work to put together, yet it's still better than writing by hand, in terms of the distribution. There was something magical about that that let ideas needed a book link to explain and let them happen. There weren't so many books that you couldn't keep up, all your time would be spent reading like we have now.

This is one of the big problems is we consume so much media way more than we produce individually. OK, look at what's happened with books now. It's so much easier to write a book, to have it published, to have it distributed. So much easier that there's more and more books all the time. Their quality is not this quality that we romantically look back on in the advent of the printing press.

I'm sure there were a lot of bad books back then. Now there's just more of everything. There's just more good books, and more bad books.

The same thing is happening online. We're's so much easier to publish, so much easier to consume, distribute and all that stuff involved in that. It's so much more fulfilling in a quick hit kind of way. It hits our serotonin centers to have a quick insight blog post, that we're not reading those deep ideas anymore.

We're not creating deep ideas, most of us, myself included, don't make that many deep ideas in our lifetimes. It does take a special...I don't want to go there. My whole point is that we're living in a pop culture. Everything is pop culture now, including programming. I think we should stop fighting it.

We should have pop culture icons, which we already do. They're just not engineered the way we would engineer a pop music icon. We should have a pop programming icon. We should make people who represent a certain niche of programming and turn them into little idols, little icons of that style of programming, that niche.

I know people are going to hate me for this, but I don't think we can move the other way. We've tried and the tide is only coming in faster where we're having more and more media be instantaneous and more and more programmers learning from YouTube how to create software.

We should instead move the other way and see it more like a democratization of software that...just like rock 'n' roll is a democratization of more classical instruments, but played...jazz is a better example. Jazz was a democratization of classical. It's the same instruments, but they play for a small group of people and it's more improvisational and stuff.

Of course, you have rock 'n' roll, which is... [laughs] ...even more dumbed down version of jazz, dumbed down. OK, I don't want to go there. I should actually cut this part out. I'm not that much of a music scholar. I do know that jazz is a very has a lot of theory behind it.

It had a lot of smart people who were very well-trained, where as rock 'n' roll, the perception that I have at least, is that you can get by with a few chords. You don't really have to be that musically inclined to play. It's more about performance and emotion and just being authentic. It's fun and raw emotion.

We build systems, software systems, for instance, company websites. Small businesses where they just need a very simple website where their address is clear and easy to find and their phone number is easy to find. They don't need a lot of stuff. What they need is a WordPress installation with a decent theme.

More and more of the web is turning into that kind of thing. More and more of software is turning into that. You don't need something new and push the limit of technology. You don't need that much skill to put the thing together.

I believe that we are...that kind of development could be done in a very pop way. Why not? I don't understand why we shouldn't. Probably already is being done in a pop way. People who have popular podcasts or popular YouTube channels are very much influential over those communities and how programming happens.

I just so happen to want to do this for functional programming. I want to take a Liberace approach and dig into the past, the great ideas of the past. The things we rely on all the time and also big ideas in math and stuff like that. Also make them accessible, fun and interesting and make it more pop.

Make it something that someone would have fun doing. Lean on that charisma. I don't have that much charisma. Lean on the charisma and the glamour of celebrity to push good ideas forward and be part of that conversation. OK, that's my idea. I don't think I've ever stated it out loud before. Now that it's coming out I wonder if there isn't a better way to put it.

Please let me know what you think. I'm really interested in making this into a conversation because I'm tired of people saying that it's a pop culture, that's a bad thing. We can't look at it like it's a bad thing. It's the truth so we have to see it as an opportunity. Let's move forward. Awesome.

Tell those robots what you like. Thumbs up is the icon that they understand. Click it! Subscribe, comment. Do what you do! Five stars wherever you rate stuff! Tell the robots what is good.