The whichness of code

Five Day and a bit of an adventure already. In keeping with my want of challenging my earlier analyses and assumptions, I took myself off to gym this morning. Previously I had ceased on Four Day because of feeling burned out rather than a lack of hours of availability as on the Bog “weekend”. So I went off this morning and aside from needing a bit more preparation for what podcast to listen to, it went well.

The podcast was more of that “Chips on Everything” series on the internet. Decidedly bottom drawer. Not obscene or anything, just rather low quality. 

Which gave me occasion to reflect on a rather surprising television advertisement I saw recently. While I try to ignore advertisement because of their inherent vacuity of trustworthiness, this one actually provoked some thought. It was an insurance advertisement touting the “technology of its app”. In actuality, its app is actually less capable than some of its competitors, but what good it did was to raise the question of whether code is technology?

To start with, I feel inclined to semi-cite the historian James Burke who did some marvelous television programming about information networks. That isn’t how it was portrayed but that’s what it was and it was only saved by Burke’s historyisms. One of which is that we humans tend to mistake engineering for science, technology for engineering, manufacturing for technology, and so forth.

But this is a bit of a different problem. Is coding technology? Technology is almost always a material thing like an electronic circuit (e.g., a CPU) and not a social activity. Thus social media is an interaction network facilitated by technology. But it isn’t a technology itself despite the statements of Bog Journalists. (Is that redundant? Probably.)

So what about coding? Is a steering wheel technology? No. It’s merely a means of controlling the operation of a technology. A tiller would work similarly and did in the early days of motorcars. So in the sense of controlling, code is not a technology. But what about embedded code? I have a microwave over – an appliance – that can be “programmed” with a simple heating/not-heating pattern. That pattern is empowered by the technology. I could stand about and do it myself, manually as it were, one step at a time, and I have done that in times past with simpler devices, but is it technology? Is complication technology? I think not. Embedded code does not have a separate existence from the actual material technology.

Code has a literature aspect, It is written, composed. Perhaps even in a functional sense, semantic. But is it technology. Clearly paper and pen and ink are technologies. And in my opinion, much more intriguing and worthwhile than most electronics. I can create many thing that are independent of what paper and pen and ink I use but that is not so of code. Code has no meaning outside of its material interaction. (I am excluding NERD coding here. Crunching science numbers is independent of its material but it is still not technology.)

I am not done with this but as of now I am of the conjecture that code is not technology but it is related. It is functional. But I suspect it is nothing more than a special kind of manufacturing process.