Tag Archives: Computer programming

The myth of “programming is the only creativity”

One of the often-used memes concerning Apple’s approach to iOS is that it’s for “passive consumers”, people who aren’t creative. In an interesting post on Google App Inventor, O’Reilly’s Mike Loukides dredges this one up again – and I think Mike is committing a classic geek error.

Mike contrasts the approach of App Inventor, which is designed to encourage simple programs for Android, to the higher barrier of entry for development on iPhone, and concludes that it’s a cultural difference:

“But Google has taken another direction altogether: the user’s experience isn’t going to be perfect, but the user’s experience will be the experience he or she wants. If you want to do something, you can build it yourself; you can put it on your own phone without going through a long approval process; you don’t have to learn an arcane programming language. This is computing for the masses. It’s computing that enables people to be creative, not just passive consumers.” [My emphasis]

Here’s Mike’s first error: Conflating “creativity” with programming, and “passivity” with, well, everything else. Mike isn’t the first to do this – I think my friend Cory Doctorow is responsible for the meme, as I pointed out in an earlier post. I’d argue, in fact, that the history of computing teaches us the exact opposite: the less people are required to learn programming in order to be creative with computers, the more creative work you get.

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Google App Inventor: Not for everyone

As someone who grew up on BASIC and actually did some serious projects back in the 80′s and 90′s using HyperCard, I’m massively in favour of simple, easy to use programming tools. So Google App Inventor instantly caught my attention.

And then I saw it.

Oh dear.

The only people who could possibly think that this was “coding for the rest of us” are people who’ve forgotten when it was like to first learn how to create programmes, and that have never seen the incredible, powerful tools that something like HyperCard had. With HyperCard, anyone could pull together something and have it working without having to write a single line of code – but if you did delve into the code, you could do amazing things in a language that was closer to English than BASIC.

App Inventor hasn’t learned the lessons of HyperCard. And that’s a shame, because simple, powerful development tools are pretty thin on the ground.

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