Computer Love: A Study of Technophilia in the Real World


Sex is the coding urge sublimated
--Dan Gould, programmer

Perhaps the most subtle and pervasive form of technophilia is the coding urge. Programming is,by nature, one of the most intimate acts between humans and machines imaginable. When you sit down and program it is just you and the machine, unmediated, unhindered in a way that merely using a computer can never acheive. Moreover, programming involves bending the machine to your will, forcing it to behave to your exact needs and specifications in every possible way. Like more traditional logic puzzles, most programming involves solving problems, and thus succesful completion of a program is often accompanied by a feeling of great reward. The flip side of this of course, is that failure (as engendered by the concept of "bugs" in the program) causes the greatest frustration - for in this unmediated, unhindered world, all bugs are, ultimately, your fault.

It may be easy to see, just from this description, why programming is so addictive. To a programmer, a computer is jus a blank slate, a tabula rosa that they can paint however they want. The coding urge is therefore very similar to a painter's need to paint or a writers need to write, (also both very intimate, solitary activites).

Does it follow, then, that all programmers are technophiles? Probably, to some extent or another, although computer scientist theorist Joseph Weizenbaum points out some quite striking differences between "compulsive" and "professional" programmers. Software engineer Ellen Ullman, on the other hand, ties programming much more closely to sex in her book Close to the Machine: Technophlia and its Discontents. It is interesting to contrast the vocabularies they use when describing programming. Weizenbaum describes technophliac programmers "bending machines to their will" and other terms of domination. Ullman describes programming as drifting through a timeless space where true connections with other human beings are only truly possible. There is a gender distinction that is impossible to ignore here. Both authors describe characters who are technophiles for widely varied reasons, yet all of these reasons are based on a foundation built of traditional roles of sexuality and gender.

Why is this? Is it reason to believe that our coding urges stem from the same motivations and dresires that drive our sexuality? Or is society imposing these views onto males and females, and we simply replicating them for the digital realm? Why is the computer science profession dominated (there's that word again) by males? There are no easy answers here, but that doesn't mean its not worth searching.

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