There’s more to creativity than programming

The inimitable Ian Betteridge nails an annoying meme that suggests anyone who doesn’t program is merely a passive consumer of content. Naturally it’s a meme started by people who can program rather than, say, create an illustration good enough to go on the front of the New Yorker in an iPhone drawing app.

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.

He’s right, and he’s right when he dismisses a claim that people who don’t get down and dirty with their computing kit are like cruise ship passengers who never leave the boat and discover anything about the local culture.

I’d argue that the approach he’s taking, which encourages users to get deeper into the hardware and software, to (as he puts it) “find out about the local culture” is actually more like requiring the passengers to do their stint maintaining the engines of the ship, whether they want to or not. The price they “have” to pay for getting on the ship in the first place is to become engineers.

10 thoughts on “There’s more to creativity than programming

  1. mupwangle says:

    He’s completely missed the point of the article he’s discussing. The whole article is about app creator – the whole point of which is that it allows people to write programs without any need to learn how to code. OK, it’s not completely designed for someone like our mother, but it’s designed for people that say “I wish there was an app for that”.

    Main point of contention:

    Mike says:
    “It’s computing that enables people to be creative, not just passive consumers. ”
    Ian says:
    “Here’s Mike’s first error: Conflating “creativity” with programming, and “passivity” with, well, everything else. ”

    Mike didn’t make that error – Ian did. Mike said that allowing people to create apps *without* being able to program allows them to be creative rather than passively waiting for someone else to do it. The only thing stopping them in the past was the need to program.

    Ian’s argument is correct in that the ability to program does not engender creativity, but the whole article is in reply to an argument that Mike didn’t make.

    The App creator is not a perfect fit-all solution, but Mike’s argument is that is the direction in which Google is moving.

    It’s a bit like guitar pedals. If there’s a sound that you want, you could wait until Boss make a pedal that does that sound, or you could buy a series of pedals that, when put together, make the sound. You don’t need to be able to solder the circuits that make the pedals – you just buy the building blocks.

  2. mupwangle says:

    The other thing is that Apple’s approach is exactly what Ian is claiming that Mike’s supporting. Apple’s ban on cross-compiling means that people like graphic designers who can do flash need to learn to code if they want to write for the iphone. That’s a whole pile of creativity been locked out in favour of geeks.

    Forgot to mention this bit:

    “The problem is that App Creator isn’t “programming for non-programmers” – it’s “programming for people who want/need to learn programming”.”

    No it’s not. It’s not quite good enough to be for everybody yet, but it’s an indication of intent. The comparison with hypercard is a little flawed as most people didn’t understand what hypercard was or what it was capable of. Most people haven’t used it because they’ve never heard of it. Most people would understand the concept of “Google Android App Creator” I think.

    Anyway, what he’s missing is that app creator is not meant to be for everyone. It’s for the people who have ideas for apps but not the skills to actually code them. Not a large group, but a creative one.

  3. Gary says:

    Sorry, I think you’re wrong. The full quote Ian links to is this:

    “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.”

    Easier coding? Sure. Freer coding? Sure. Computing for the masses? No way. And he’s quite clearly equating creativity with building your own apps, and being passive consumers as not creating your own apps.

    Later in the article, Mike says:

    Google is opening up the guts and letting you create — and taking the gamble that people who haven’t been creative in the past will start.

    Now maybe that’s lazy wording, but it’s another example of hacking = creativity; not hacking = couch potato.

    > what he’s missing is that app creator is not meant to be for everyone.

    “This is computing for the masses”. See what I did there? ;-)

  4. mupwangle says:

    Don’t agree. You’re still talking about coding and I still don’t think it’s about that. It’s computing for the masses in the same way that the evolution of command-line interpreters through to GUI stuff has allowed non-technical people to use computers. Techie people creating tools to allow non-techie people to create things that they need. Photoshop allows people to do really complicated things that you would need years of darkroom experience to even try let alone master, excel allows you to create really complicated formulae and charts without needing to understand what’s going on in the background. This is the same sort of thing. It’s like when Windows, mac and later on some hardware vendors, introduced wizard-type interfaces for when the nuts and bolts of the task are really something more complicated than they need to be. People could configure their own networks without having to study TCP/IP, for example.

    Something like this is going to allow people who, for example, get annoyed that they have to press lots of keys and go through lots of options to perform a frequently used task that they think should be a single button. With this they can do that without waiting for a developer to do it (and possibly charge for it). These are normal phone users who don’t like what their phone does sometimes. Then at the other end of the spectrum are the wannabe developers. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    >>Now maybe that’s lazy wording, but it’s another example of hacking = creativity; not hacking = couch potato.

    No it isn’t. You’re adding the word “hacking” in there where it is inappropriate. He’s not saying hacking. He’s talking about google giving people the opportunity to customise their own device (and share that if they will). Do you consider changing your iphone wallpaper hacking? If you don’t have iOS 4 then changing your wallpaper on anything other than the lock screen is hacking. Passivity is complaining that it doesn’t do something when the tools are in place to allow you to change it. Creativity is deciding to change the user experience to suit you.

    In any case – there is a hacking community such as the jailbreak one who do all the actual techie bit for you (as long as you’re willing to risk the wrath of apple). If you gave your iphone to someone else and they jailbroke it and then you used one of things that you are now able to access, does that count as hacking? You’ve got absolutely no techie knowledge and you’re just using a tool.

    >>“This is computing for the masses”. See what I did there? ;-)

    Not really. Spreadsheets are computing for the masses but it doesn’t necessary meant that the masses either want or need it. It means that it is available and there are no barriers for entry, such as prior knowledge or training.

  5. Gary says:

    > Photoshop allows people to do really complicated things that you would need years of darkroom experience to even try let alone master, excel allows you to create really complicated formulae and charts without needing to understand what’s going on in the background.

    Yes. He isn’t talking about any of those things in the linked article. He isn’t talking about tweaking the UI of your phone. He’s talking about people saying “oh boo-hoo, there’s no app that prints GARY IZ DA BEST in the App Store. But thanks to Google, I can write my own!”

    App Inventor’s intent is to enable people who wouldn’t normally program to develop the apps that they want; to make it possible to write Android apps without being a “software developer.”

    > No it isn’t. You’re adding the word “hacking” in there where it is inappropriate. He’s not saying hacking.

    Oh FFS, I’m not adding anything. I’ll capitalise and bold it if you like.

    Apple’s approach is more appropriate for an entertainment device, more like the ’60s TV, radio, or dial phone. It does more, but it’s still sealed; you can’t open it up and HACK it. There are plenty of people who want that kind of experience — possibly a majority. Google is opening up the guts and letting you create — and taking the gamble that people who haven’t been creative in the past will start.

    > Do you consider changing your iphone wallpaper hacking?

    No. He’s talking about writing apps. Not changing your wallpaper. Writing apps. It’s a post about App inventor. It’s for inventing apps. Did I mention apps?

    I cannot imagine Apple offering non-programmers the ability to develop for the iPhone. If ported to iOS, App Inventor, or its equivalent, would presumably violate the iOS developer agreement.

    Develop. Not change wallpaper. Develop. Develop what? Why, I do believe he means Apps.

    > Apple’s ban on cross-compiling means that people like graphic designers who can do flash need to learn to code if they want to write for the iphone.

    No, graphic designers can publish on the web or create web apps if they want to write for the iPhone. They only need to learn Apple’s code if they want to write *apps* for the iPhone. Apps! APPS!

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPS!

    > Anyway, what he’s missing is that app creator is not meant to be for everyone. It’s for the people who have ideas for apps but not the skills to actually code them.

    Yes. Apps!

    > Not a large group

    Masses! MASSES! MAAAAAAAAAAAAAASES!

    *explodes*

  6. Squander Two says:

    Wow, Inception‘s really pissed you off.

    I don’t particularly have an opinion on App Inventor, but, to be fair to David, I think what he was getting at was that the definition of what is or isn’t an app changes. He mentioned Excel, for instance: a lot of stuff that would once have been an app is now merely a sheet within Excel — and vice versa, come to think of it: in banking, traders regularly build their own tools in Excel which then later on get passed to devs and recoded in Java or whatever. You could say similar things about Photoshop and Quark and a whole bunch of other amazing apps that have made tricky things easier. These little in-app user-made tools are doing the same calculations and have the same power and the same utility as apps, but aren’t called “apps”. My point is merely that the distinction isn’t clear enough for anyone to win this argument by establishing whether or not it’s about apps. The word is not well defined.

    And furthemore, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight!

  7. Gary says:

    > I disagreed with you. No need to be an arse.

    You didn’t just disagree. You were accusing me of doing something I wasn’t doing. I’ve had quite enough of that online of late, so forgive me for not fucking dancing when it happens here.

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