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In Plato’S Book Phaedrus, Plato

In Plato’s book Phaedrus, Plato talks about a question Socrates once asked “Must not the art of rhetoric, taken as a whole, be a kind of influencing of the mind by means of words, not only in courts of law and other public gatherings, but in private places also? And must it not be the same art that is concerned with great issues and small, its right employment commanding no more respect when dealing with important matters than with unimportant?” Socrates believe that the art of rhetoric was existent in everyday life. At the time his scope was obviously limited to speech and writing, however as modern day technology advances one must think twice about what would Socrates have included in his question. Would he have mentioned different forms of technology as means of persuasion or would he have omitted them? It is clear from his way of thought that he believed that rhetoric was as defined in the abstract a means of persuasion. Today scholars of composition and rhetoric have delved into researching and analyzing whether technology specifically “programming” should be included in the list of new iterations of composing.

Programming is a sophisticated process that where an algorithm is turned into lines of code, the line of code is then processed by the computer and then executed. Now although stating that programming is a form of composing or a form of rhetoric is not novel or uncommon, I want to examine why it should be considered as such. Now although many scholars and teachers constantly show value of technology, there hasn’t been enough said about how such technology comes into works and the different levels of development. Hence, I will be discussing how programming languages are in fat forms of composition that hold rhetorical weight that is mostly ignored.

Programming and composing share many similar traits, they are both works of collaboration that target a certain audience to persuade them with something. Furthermore, just like writer’s programmers can be I spired and influenced by others. There is a common misconception when it comes to the secrecy of coding. However, programs are most of the time available to the public. Linux as an example is what is known as an open source operating system software. This means that the software is accessible to anyone with internet access. In fact, the software itself is developed through the programming community. There is no Linux corporation that updates the software but the community that uses is constantly collectively modifying it for the better. Just like novels, these programmers are inspired by those who wrote before them and add to it or create more within it.

As discussed in the abstract, a program is an algorithm that is encoded “input” and then executed by a computer “Output”. The algorithm is the core of the program, the algorithm “is a procedure whose execution is made possible by a set of conditions that influence subsequent steps and conditions within the procedure.” One proposition to consider programming as a form of composition was by Ian Bogst. Bogst argues “Procedural rhetoric” , he uses the example of video games to prove his claim of how the rules of procedure of a game lead the user who is playing to perform certain actions to attain his/her objective. These rules of procedure have been encoded in games code.

Brian Ballentine makes a very interesting point as well about copyrights and proprietary trademarks and how similar codes in that regards are to written composition. He argues that similarly to written composition, there are different levels of clouding when it comes to coding. Many companies to protect their proprietary work from their competitors will make their code hardly accessible or even encrypt it. He highlights that the decision making on whether a code should be published or kept secret is a critical and main part of its composition hence making it a form of composition.

Some will argue that the lines of code themselves are outside the realm of persuasion and that these are just object oriented instructions and that there is no outcome other than what it ends up doing and although this argument does hold merit it completely undermines how rich programming languages are and how they are very rhetorically rich forms of composition.

In fact, Donald Knuth the inventor of WEB/CWEB, argues that programming should not be considered a science, he views it as a form of art. He says “The main idea is to regard a program as a communication to human beings rather than as a set of instructions to a computer. Your program is also viewed as a hypertext document, rather like the World Wide Web.” Knuth’s argument is that every program or website that you use or open can also be viewed in the form of lines of code. Based on this argument, if a platform like sound cloud can be considered a form of digital literacy then why is the code behind it not. In fact every website you open, you can right click and press view source page and you will see the code that gives the output you see, hence the argument that a program is rhetorically rich form of composition.

In his book, Beautiful Code, Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto the creator the programming language Ruby says “Judging the attributes of computer code is not simply a matter of aesthetics. Instead, computer programs are judged according to how well they execute their intended tasks. In other words, “beautiful code” is not an abstract virtue that exists independent of its programmers’ efforts. Rather, beautiful code is really meant to help the programmer be happy and productive. This is the metric I use to evaluate the beauty of a program.” Matsumoto believes that code should be viewed as an essay and that its intended from human readers not for computers to execute, the mere fact that computers execute these programs is supplementary.

Kevin Brock, Mathew Davis and Steven J. McElroy conducted an experiment where a writing class at the collegiate level were taught to code to get the students to think more critically about digital technologies. One students work stood out where she created a game called “click the correct block”. What drew their attention was that in her analysis he talked about how she approached her code in 2 different ways to do the same thing. She started off by coding each block independently and then to make it easier and more elegant she used a loop “Loop is a coding operation that repeats instruction” instead of doing each block alone. Her second way of coding is what is referred to as an elegant way of coding. They concluded by saying “This sort of distinction may not ever be noticed by users (assuming they played both versions of the game), but the difference in the rhetorical underpinnings of each version’s code is profound.”

Brock in his paper also discusses how since arguments are inherently a procedural process, the where it be analogue or digital they are both forms of rhetoric. Just as writing is a form of composition then programming which is also inherently procedural should be a form of composition that is filled with rhetorical power.

With that in mind, I look back at what Mar Prensky said the TCEA in February of 2008. Prensky said that all students should have to learn programming, he defines programming literacy as “The ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible, one wants it to do – to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images” and just like writing, programming will become the norm one days especially as technology continues to dominate our world. The more we integrate technology into our lives the it becomes more valuable to be able to bend them you will and needs. Prensky makes an great comparison of how a couple of hundreds of year ago, writing and reading were reserved to the elite also known as scribes and that we are at that point where computer scientists, engineers and enthusiast are the only ones who can program, but in the future it will be the norm just as writing and reading are the norm now. Just as reading and writing are a form of composition, programming is to except its only practiced by the a few now, and that will all change.

In conclusion, since in today’s modern educational system, professors in writing classes are working on getting students to compose using all means at their disposable, the all means including programming should be employed. As demonstrated through my essay, there is more to programming then what meets the eye. It is a rhetorically powerful form of composition that should be afforded the same level of acceptance as other forms. Our scope of what is considered composition needs to expand and adapt to the times we live in. In a world dominated by technology one must wonder how can we argue that programming is not a form of literacy and why it is not integrated in courses of writing and rhetoric.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.