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Programmers Aren't Wizards

And programming isn't magic, you narcissists

By Alex Mell-TaylorPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Top Story - August 2022
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Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

“The amazing thing about software creation is that… it's this magical thing. You’re dealing with this arcane stuff.…manipulating symbols on this magical device that you are entering keys into and getting this mechanical thing to do magic for you, oftentimes across the planet….and not only are you using it to be powerful and exert some power over the world, but you're using it to craft superpowers for other people too. You’re creating something that other people can then use to acquire some valuable capacity.”

This quote came from Juan Benet, founder of Protocol Labs, at 2016's Fullstack Fest. This grandiose opinion is a common perspective in Tech spaces. You can find hundreds, maybe thousands of think pieces and talks claiming that there is some mythical quality behind programming. Programmers have been described as unicorns, cyborgs, and so much more.

Yet this overinflation of programming's importance leads to a problematic self-centering — one that blinds the tech industry to the interconnectedness of our world. Programmers often believe their labor to be so vital that they cut out everyone else in the process, allowing those with this mindset to do some pretty terrible things.

The Breakdown

Listen, I don't want people to walk away with the notion that all programmers are evil or ignorant (#notallprogrammers). We are not talking here about people on an individual level but a mindset, and one that has systemically perpetuated harm.

Truthfully every industry has people who speak verbosely about it. You should listen to some of the ways writers have described the act of writing — it's almost biblical. As Stephen King once said: "Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

What sets programmers apart is that right now, they are highly valued in our society and consequently are insulated from having to look at their labor as being interconnected with others. The average writer makes somewhere between 50 to 60 thousand dollars a year, and that only includes professional writers — not all the people doing gigs on the side. The average entry-level programmer makes tens of thousands more than that, which is higher for people in non-entry-level positions. A writer can call themselves a magician all they like, their not going to feel like one receiving less than $50,000 a year and burning the midnight oil to finish shit contracts.

It's easy to feel like a wizard living in a financial bubble where you never have to be genuinely questioned, but programming isn't magic. Every stroke of a keyboard requires the labor of thousands of people that do not receive the same recognition or pay as programmers. Your computer needed to be built, powered, and maintained. You needed to receive the food, care, and housing necessary to work it — not to mention the training. Remove anyone one of these steps, and it's just a hunk of metal with a $1,000+ black mirror.

What you think of as magic is the result of thousands of hands that are part of an interconnected system of labor. A power plant goes offline. A system doesn't get repaired. And that magical set of instructions sent halfway across the world is received by no one.

It was never all you. No one's labor is ever solely theirs.

It's important to point this out because many programmers have often supported systems that take advantage of everyone else's labor. Much of the tech world's wealth was built on applications with the sole purpose of extracting the value of others' time and work.

Take the example of Facebook (now Meta), which advertised itself as a place of social connection but instead built platforms that everyone else had to go through, monetizing their users' data in the process via ad targeting. These networks have had a massive impact on journalism, with newspapers' ad revenue shrinking across the country. Whether or not you buy into the argument that "social media killed journalism" or just "the internet in general" did, it's undeniable that sites like Facebook and Google have not helped. Where once papers reined supreme, many newspapers now have to pay Facebook directly to reach their readers. The application became a middleman designed to siphon off wealth from others.

Papers all over the world are now suing the company for this loss in revenue. The period before the Internet wasn't perfect. Papers often were gatekeepers in their own right, but the legacy of social media sites has contributed to a system where a large percentage of Americans live in news deserts. They go to Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor for their local information, but these are not substitutes for ongoing reporting, and misinformation is rampant on them. Many Americans now know less about their communities than they did 15 years ago, before the dominance of these sites.

You can wax poetically about the magic of programming and the Internet all you like, but this is a way our lives have materially worsened because of it. And we, of course, have been narrowing down on one issue for the sake of brevity. From Amazon’s monopolization of the marketplace to the spread of disinformation, programmers maintain financial systems that have made everyone else's life more precarious.

The "magic" of programming has done this. Programmers at big tech firms didn't add capacity to newspapers and give journalists and others superpowers, but the opposite. Capitalists used programming to siphon the value of other industries for themselves. As Nitasha Tiku wrote in Wired:

“It is only now, a decade after the [2008/9] financial crisis, that the American public seems to appreciate that what we thought was disruption worked more like extraction — of our data, our attention, our time, our creativity, our content, our DNA, our homes, our cities, our relationships. The tech visionaries’ predictions did not usher us into the future, but rather a future where they are kings.”

The opinion that Juan and others are saying about programmers being magical beings isn't just an exaggeration but a comfortable lie used to ignore the harm they are perpetuating onto the world.

Conclusion

For many, programmers aren't wizards but parasites. They build digital tendrils that allow those on top to take and take until there is nothing left.

If you are a programmer and are still holding onto the idea that your labor is this magical force more special than the rest of humanity, then you are most likely contributing to this toxic system. You told yourself you were a wizard when you were really a plague.

And there is nothing magical about that.

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About the Creator

Alex Mell-Taylor

I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.

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Comments (20)

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  • Ben Owen6 months ago

    Very informative. I also needed to develop softwares for my business. I want to develop high-quality, scalable, and user-friendly apps. I am looking for professionals services due to their cost-effectiveness and ability to build apps quickly. Anyone can suggest me some professionals?

  • Kayleigh Fraser ✨10 months ago

    Taking power away from mainstream media eg newspapers seems like gods work to me….. Its weakening a power structure that’s held dominance for far too long, and is integrated into all of the evil industries.

  • Chika Okeke12 months ago

    Nice

  • Aschatria Xyanaabout a year ago

    Programming is a profession like any other. You use a shovel somebody else built.

  • Chua Yuan Hengabout a year ago

    Programmers may get replaced by ChatGPT which can now write codes someday.

  • Anthony Evans about a year ago

    I agree with this article

  • Glenn Millerabout a year ago

    In my forty-seven-year career, I changed industries. I helped nurture the Internet into what it is today. And I enjoyed 90% of it. No, it wasn't magic. It was savvy and the ability to bring a far-fetched idea to life. That's the essential thing programmers bring to the table.

  • Maher Ziya2 years ago

    Great writing, kudos to you!

  • Amas Cotnw2 years ago

    Very well written! Thanks for sharing

  • Lu Na Ba2 years ago

    Thank you for sharing, great write up!

  • Martin Thomas2 years ago

    Programmers are ordinary people

  • Strange Sue2 years ago

    That's great!

  • Elviabj bryonkel2 years ago

    Well written

  • Tanoria2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Fortis Rakow2 years ago

    Nice vocal story. I have respect for programmers cause they make the digital easier for non computer genius. 🙂

  • test2 years ago

    Great writing

  • Sherlin Tangredi2 years ago

    I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Your descriptions are so vivid.

  • Na Mei2 years ago

    Great writing, kudos to you!

  • miki grey2 years ago

    https://www.voiceofsevensisters.com/northeast-nagaland-state-dear-lottery-result-announced-today/ Check out the most updated results of nagaland state dear lottery https://www.voiceofsevensisters.com/

  • Mariann Carroll2 years ago

    Nice vocal story. I have respect for programmers cause they make the digital easier for non computer genius. 🙂

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