I used to knit around the clock. Passionately, from second to sixth grade—my life revolved around new projects & patterns I was designing. Looking back, it seems unlikely I’d drop it entirely to start coding websites.
But that’s what I did. I started coding every day, making little websites for myself, then apps, then open source projects, then hackathons.
There are so many things that we want to and can accomplish but a lot of us are sitting around waiting for permission. Permission that seems to never come…
What’s the worst thing that could happen in most of these cases?…how often does the worst thing even happen, and how much better is the best thing that could happen?
—The Audacity of a Ninth Grader by Nate Kontny
Learning to code utterly transformed my life in the best way possible. I went from having a single creative pursuit to building a professional platform for myself on the internet, able to build apps & marketing for causes I cared about. It instilled in me a deep sense of agency—that even as a young person, I could make big things happen in the world. No need to wait for permission, be given an opportunity, be asked if something should happen. Instead, I just did it.
Neil Postman’s 5 Thoughts on Technological Change says that “culture always pays a price for technology” and that “ the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population.” I wholeheartedly agree.1
At the beginning of the internet, as Anil Dash points out in “The Missing Building Blocks of the Web”, it was supposed to be as easy to make/edit a webpage as view one. What happened? As Postman predicted, “[capitalists] hope to exploit new technologies to the fullest, and do not much care what traditions are overthrown in the process.”
But I don’t think we’re battling a lost cause (the age of computing, after all, is just getting going!). The solution, in my eyes, is arming the masses with a baseline of technical literacy.23 If the majority of the population remains technologically ignorant, of course companies will take advantage of it for profit. A textbox on social media sites as the only way to publish on the web makes corporations money, but it’s not what a democratic society needs or deserves.
It doesn’t have to be this way, & I’ve seen it happening already. After the 2016 election, I made a viral site with friends to make calling your Congressperson super simple. At a hackathon I co-organized in Chicago last summer, a first-time-coding teenager made a website to notify people about ICE raids. Institutions & corporations aren’t going to build these tools to democratize access to information. We need grassroots making everywhere, led by young people. Anyone trying to keep literacy out of the hands of the people is a gate-keeper we need to leap over.
Knitting was a good step in making for me, but learning to code built the true agency for me. Where computation must go next is where the personal computer started4—bringing agency to the people.
My generation is battling some of the hardest challenges humanity has ever faced: climate change, automation, stifling injustice. Only a generation of problem-solvers, armed with the technical literacy to build their ideas, can solve them. We need a revolution, from young people up, of making.