Following the intellectual work of Vilém Flusser, the idea that software is – or can become – the writing of the twenty-first century, is seductive. What is the difference between the expressivity of the expressive act in writing as conventionally understood and the series of instructions that constitutes a computer program? We have always assumed that there is an insurmountable gap between these two kinds of writing or notation. Could software code also be expressive? Does software code have to be only productive? The paradigm of software code as we know it is reaching its limit: the exclusive emphasis on engineering and on getting the program to do something, code as a series of instructions to a machine. Flusser places an emphasis on the continuity between the culture of written texts (which are both scientific and literary texts) and the “universe of technical images,” as he calls it (Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011). The technical image is more a result of scientific and literary texts than we have previously believed. Technical images are anything but “natural.” Programming is a form of freedom. In the future society of images, everyone will be empowered to “envision.” Everyone will be a programmer and a synthesizer of images.
In Does Writing Have a Future? (2011), Flusser investigates the prospects for “writing after writing.” Hope for a better society cannot be placed in the hands of those who know how to write in the old way, yet refuse to learn the new codes. Nor can hope be placed in the hands of those who learn the new codes in a “robotic” way, yet remain ignorant of the value of writing, both as it was back then and as it could be now. One should learn the new codes while reflecting on the history of writing and acting to renew and continue the history of writing. The thinking that expresses itself in digital code, although it is not the same thinking as it was before the invention of the digital, is neither stupid nor narrow. Texts will make their comeback against computer programs, perhaps operating inside the latter to transform them, to bring them back within the overall flow of writing’s place in human history.
Original article by Alan N. Shapiro