Before reading this, you should read Why Engineers Never Win and Why Engineers Should Win.
Ok, now we’re all caught up.
I’m optimistic. Yes, I know the world is hurting. I see how the people trying to do good often make things worse. I can’t claim to be insightful when I observe how we celebrate buffoonery and berate competency. (At least the Romans got bread with their circuses.)
I’m optimistic because engineers have become poets and code has become poetry.
Every age, every culture, every society is measured by the breath and depth of it’s poetry and the brilliance of it’s poets. This poetry can be visual or musical or sculptural or theatrical or even wordy. Sometimes it’s hard to identify the poetry, hidden behind fashion and fads but it’s there if you look long and hard and unblinking.
A month ago I had an opportunity to visit the Louvre for the first time, in person. I only had a couple of hours so I made beeline for the Ancient Greek sculptures. My mature interest in making art, oops, I mean visual poetry, was born from my experience of the Kourus and Kore gradually coming to life from stiff abstractions in the 7th century BCE to expressive examples of humanity in the 5th century BCE. Walking past these sculptures in the Louvre was like watching a culture awaken from myth to science.
And that same transformation is taking place today: The boxy utilitarian desktop computers of the last decade have become light and glassy iPhones and iPads; The awkward and inflexible HTML websites of yesterday have become elegant and animated HTML5 web apps; CDs and DVDs with hard data limits have become unlimited streams.
We are waking up. Engineers are not arguing for a better world, they are not waiting for the next election or for military action or for protesters to start marching; Engineers are writing new poems that express our better natures in code and chips.
Admittedly, things are a little messy right now. Tech isn’t always used for good. But a program or a device that gives an individual the research and communication power of a corporation or government is inherently good.
Already we have tech poetry that is starting to enable individuals to navigate and bypass complex legal and political boundaries. This is true equality: When you can talk to anyone, anywhere, without permission from anyone else. People are talking to people without adult supervision on Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Ventrillo, and more. And it’s not the end of the world–rather it’s the start of the world, a new kind of unfettered speech.
Poets know that language both enables communication and limits expression. That why they use novel formulations and metaphors: A great poet breaks free of the constraints imposed by his native tongue.
We can’t solve the problems hurting the world with the tools and languages that created these problems in the first place. But engineers will solve them with ideas that can only be etched in silicon and written in RAM.