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What are the limits of a formal programming world?

Words by Verónica Toro and Cami Bohórquez • Nov 18 2021

An intersection among the arts, science, culture and technology

This article was originally written and published by Verónica Toro and Cami Bohórquez on September 30, 2021

Seymour Papert’s dream for every child in the world to learn how to program has failed. It’s clear that the digital gap is getting wider, and while in many countries kids have access to a computer, tablet or cellphone, not all of them will become digitally literate. 

And yet, though not everyone will learn how to be a professional programmer, there seems to be a rising trend in people developing simple coding skills to take care of everyday tasks.  Many people are adopting these small, daily programming practices without considering themselves programmers, and it is in this informal use of coding that a new language is emerging. 

Informal programming as an expression tool

Just like informal English is becoming more and more relevant in cultural expressions and in music, in rap and street language, informal programming is also taking a role in artistic and cultural expression. Even though this type of programming doesn’t rely on computer science standards, its power is strong and clear. 

Programming languages, similar to music and the arts, are ways in which we talk about the world we live in. Using these two languages at the same time (artistic and technological languages) gives us access to a new way of communicating what we are living; our feelings, concerns, dreams and the criticisms we make of the world. 

Functional Art

This new language, where culture, science, art and technology intersect, allows artists to speak a scientific language and allows scientists to speak an artistic one. It provides an opportunity for art to be functional — to have value beyond aesthetics and send technological or scientific messages. As Alberto Cairo once said, functional art is not about aesthetic beauty, it is “understandable first, beautiful later”. Similarly, this new message allows scientists to create a beautiful type of science –a science that speaks not only to our logic, but to our aesthetics. We’re talking about science that’s closer to the human world — removed from the crystal tower, and in the service of everyday people. 

But the digital gap between those who have the knowledge and those who don’t is becoming wider and wider. Not everyone has access to a college education and 200 years after the creation of high school in Colombia, we still haven’t reached 100% coverage. Education here is understood more as a privilege than as a human right. Another problem comes with this new way of understanding the world — the idea that some languages are more important than others. In a capitalist world where economic interests are on top of human ones, logic, functional and scientific languages are prioritized over artistic, emotional and aesthetic languages. 

Ref: Grande Anthropophagie Bleue (Yves Klein, 1960), Alejandro Londoño, 2016

There’s a global tendency to remove artistic, philosophical, and musical elements from academic curricula since they cannot be measured through standardized tests(mechanisms used by governments to decide which schools receive funding and which ones don’t). Under such pressure, schools are forced to respond using utilitarian logic, which leads to cutting down the curricula to generate favorable performances in these tests. This is a vicious circle that removes the arts from educational programs around the world. 

Courses like music, dancing and other performing arts disappear suddenly — a situation that has become more widespread since the pandemic started. A cultural gap is then created, between those who have the time and money to get to know other cultures and those who only have access to theirs. 

Art, dance and music are languages that structurally relate to our bodies and to human life. So, how can we ask children to learn programming when it is not a language that is integral to our human nature? Artists who informally program (without considering themselves programmers) and scientists that make informal art (without considering themselves artists) are doing much more when developing new ways to understand and interact with all the information flow we are encountering in the world, much more than traditional scientists and artists. These informal players are bridging two worlds that seem very distant from each other (the arts and sciences), and with it, they are building a new common and accessible language for everyone. 

A painting featuring three people overlaid with graphics in an app.
Ref: House Party No. 6, Alejandro Londoño, 2020

Integrating art and programming spaces 

DataSketch has been exploring new ways to integrate all of these languages by opening spaces for debate and inviting experts from different fields to move the conversation beyond the private space to the public agenda. These are some of the bets that DataSketch is making on the intersectionality of the arts, science and technology: 

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Verónica Toro

Social anthropologist and cultural director. She has dedicated herself to bringing together the data community in Colombia and integrating different artistic expressions in a single space, ensuring respect for the differences between their expressions and singularities. Her work consists of dialoguing with the artistic and cultural ecosystem and evaluating the impact it may have in a context such as the Colombian, and the general interest that the various proposals can bring to the city of Bogotá. She is the cultural manager of Data Sketch, her main role is to find artistic expressions that are related to the world of information and open data.

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Cami Bohórquez

Industrial Engineer (2003) with a master's degree in industrial engineering from Universidad de los Andes (2006), and a doctorate in engineering from the Universidad de los Andes (2012). She currently works with Fundación CEIBA as Project Director. She specializes in the engineering of social systems from the new science of complexity. She, in particular, has been interested in the structural problems of Colombia that arise from its diversity, as well as its ethnic, geographical, ecological and economic fragmentation; their violence, their inequity and their ignorance.

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