TITLE: Software Gets Easier to Consume Faster Than It Gets Easier to Make AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 19, 2015 11:56 AM DESC: ----- BODY: In What Is the Business of Literature?, Richard Nash tells a story about how the ideas underlying writing, books, and publishing have evolved over the centuries, shaped by the desires of both creators and merchants. One of the key points is that technological innovation has generally had a far greater effect on the ability to consume literature than on the ability to create it. But books are just one example of this phenomenon. It is, in fact, a pattern:
For the most part, however, the technical and business-model innovations in literature were one-sided, far better at supplying the means to read a book than to write one. ... ... This was by no means unique to books. The world has also become better at allowing people to buy a desk than to make a desk. In fact, from medieval to modern times, it has become easier to buy food than to make it; to buy clothes than to make them; to obtain legal advice than to know the law; to receive medical care than to actually stitch a wound.
One of the neat things about the last twenty years has been the relatively rapid increase in the ability for ordinary people to to write and disseminate creative works. But an imbalance remains. Over a shorter time scale, this one-sidedness has been true of software as well. The fifty or sixty years of the Software Era have given us seismic changes in the availability, ubiquity, and backgrounding of software. People often overuse the word 'revolution', but these changes really have had an immense effect in how and when almost everyone uses software in their lives. Yet creating software remains relatively difficult. The evolution of our tools for writing programs hasn't kept pace with the evolution in platforms for using them. Neither has the growth in our knowledge of how make great software. There is, of course, a movement these days to teach more people how to program and to support other people who want to learn on their own. I think it's wonderful to open doors so that more people have the opportunity to make things. I'm curious to see if the current momentum bears fruit or is merely a fad in a world that goes through fashions faster than we can comprehend them. It's easier still to toss out a fashion that turns out to require a fair bit of work. Writing software is still a challenge. Our technologies have not changed that fact. But this is also true, as Nash reminds us, of writing books, making furniture, and a host of other creative activities. He also reminds us that there is hope:
What we see again and again in our society is that people do not need to be encouraged to create, only that businesses want methods by which they can minimize the risk of investing in the creation.
The urge to make things is there. Give people the resources they need -- tools, knowledge, and, most of all, time -- and they will create. Maybe one of the new programmers can help us make better tools for making software, or lead us to new knowledge. -----