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Computing Technology enables great shifts in perspective. I’ve long thought about sharing why I love computing so much. Previously I’m not sure I could articulate it without a great deal of confusion and vagueness, or worse, zealotry. Perhaps I still can’t communicate about it well but nonetheless I feel compelled to share. 

Ultimately I believe that everything in existence is computation but here in this essay I am speaking specifically about the common computer on your lap or in your hands connected to other computers over the Internet.

I wish I could claim that computers aren’t weapons or put to use in damaging ways or don’t destroy the natural environment. They can and are used for all sorts of destructive purposes. However I tend to see more creation than suffering coming from computers.

The essential facets of computing that gives it so much creative power are interactive programs and simulation. With a computer bits can be formed and reformed without a lot of production or process overhead. It often feels like there’s an endless reservoir of raw material and an infinite toolbox (which, in reality, is true!). These raw materials can be turned into a book, a painting, a game, a website, a photo, a story, a movie, facts, opinions, ideas, symbols, unknown things and anything else we can think up. Interactive programs engage users (and other computers) in a conversation or dance. Simulation provides us all the ability to try ideas on and see how they might play out or interact with the world. All possible from a little 3-4lb slab of plastic, metal, silicon flowing with electricity. 

Connecting a computer to the Internet multiplies this creative power through sharing. While it’s true a single computer is an infinite creative toolbox the Internet is a vast, search-able, discoverable recipe box and experimentation catalog. Each of us is limited by how much time we have each day, but when we are connected to millions of others all trying out their own expressions, experiments and programs we all benefit. Being able to cull from this vast connected catalog allows us all to try, retry, reform and repost new forms that we may never have been exposed to. Remarkable.

Is there the same creative power out in the world without computers? Yes and no. A computer is probably the most fundamental tool ever discovered (maybe we could called it crafted, but I think it was discovered.) Bits of information are the most fundamental material in the multiverse. Now, DNA, proteins, atoms, etc are also fundamental or primary (think: you can build up incredible complexity from fundamental materials). The reason I give computers the edge is that for the things we prefer to make we can make within our lifetime and often in much shorter timeframes. It would take a long time for DNA and its operating material to generate the variety of forms we can produce on a computer.

Don’t get me wrong there’s an infinite amount of creativity in the fundamental stuff of biology and some of it happens on much shorter than geological timescales. You could easily make the case that it would take a traditional computer probably longer than biology to produce biological forms as complex as animals. I’m not going to argue that. No do I ignore the idea that biology produced humans which produced the computer, so really biology is possibly more capable that the computer. That said, I think we’re going to discover over time that computation is really at the heart of everything, including biology and that computers as we know them probably exist in abundance out in the universe. That is, computers are NOT dependent on our particular biological history.

Getting out of the “can’t really prove these super big points about the universe” talk and into the practical – you can now get a computer with immense power for less than $200. This is a world changing reality. Computers are capable of outputing infinite creativity and can be obtained and operated for very modest means. I suspect that price will come down to virtually zero very soon. My own kids have been almost exclusively using Chromebooks for a year for all things education. It’s remarkably freeing to be able to pull up materials, jump into projects, research, create etc anywhere at anytime. Escaping the confines of a particular space and time to learn and work with tools has the great side effect of encouraging learning and work anywhere at anytime.

There are moments where I get slight pangs of regret about my choices to become proficient in computing (programming, designing, operating, administrating). There are romantic notions of being a master painter or pianist or mathematician and never touching another computing device again. In the end I still choose to master computing because of just how much it opens me up creatively. Almost everything I’ve been able to provide for my family and friends has come from having a joyous relationship with computing.

Most excitingly to me… the more I master computers the more I see the infinitude of things I don’t know and just how vast computing creativity can be. There aren’t a lot of things in the world that have that effect on me. Maybe I’m simply not paying attention to other things but I strongly suspect it’s actually some fundamental property of computing – There’s Always More.  

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