Rock To Code: The Bookends of Disruption
The two great generations of the last 70 years have one thing in common. They were and are the great disruptors. They took the world apart, and I wouldn't say they put it back together again, but rather they scattered it around and a new world sprang up.
Sometimes more like weeds than a rose garden, but a new world nonetheless.
For the Boomers the flashpoint was music.
Has their ever been a time in history where music took a more prominent role in the cultural upheavals of an entire generation? From the innocent stories of Chuck Berry, to the Biblical prophecies of Dylan, to the pop fantasies of the Beatles, the piercing blues of Jimi Hendrix, the mythos and grand gesture of Led Zepplin, music took root at the center of a post war world and provided a style guide of behavior and custom for nearly forty years.
For the millenials the groove is code.
Headphones on, bent to laptop, the rock heroes of the generation create any whim that comes to mind with strings of code, screens packed with programing languages. I imagine even putting this sentence on the screen is a complex process far beyond my humble scribbling skills, so I’ll let someone else jump in here and fill us in.
His name is Paul Ford and he was writing for Bloomberg News.
Consider what happens when you strike a key on your keyboard. Say a lowercase “a.” The keyboard is waiting for you to press a key, or release one; it’s constantly scanning to see what keys are pressed down. Hitting the key sends a scancode.
Just as the keyboard is waiting for a key to be pressed, the computer is waiting for a signal from the keyboard. When one comes down the pike, the computer interprets it and passes it farther into its own interior. “Here’s what the keyboard just received — do with this what you will.”
It’s simple now, right? The computer just goes to some table, figures out that the signal corresponds to the letter “a,” and puts it on screen. Of course not — too easy. Computers are machines. They don’t know what a screen or an “a” are. To put the “a” on the screen, your computer has to pull the image of the “a” out of its memory as part of a font, an “a” made up of lines and circles. It has to take these lines and circles and render them in a little box of pixels in the part of its memory that manages the screen. So far we have at least three representations of one letter: the signal from the keyboard; the version in memory; and the lines-and-circles version sketched on the screen. We haven’t even considered how to store it, or what happens to the letters to the left and the right when you insert an “a” in the middle of a sentence. Or what “lines and circles” mean when reduced to binary data. There are surprisingly many ways to represent a simple “a.” It’s amazing any of it works at all.
Coders are people who are willing to work backward to that key press. It takes a certain temperament to page through standards documents, manuals, and documentation and read things like “data fields are transmitted least significant bit first” in the interest of understanding why, when you expected “ü,” you keep getting “�.”
A simple gesture, a simple intent, sets off a complex equation of events. It’s a stretch, but it seems to me a simple song can do the same kind of thing. They say every great song is only three chords, so that’s been seventy years of three chord mayhem.
To code or to rock.
The personalities at the heart of these two epoc shattering disciplines are essentially the same. Walk into into any den of coding freaks and you’ll see hair and tatoos and piercings, and a sense of wildness, madness even. Like a rock band on eleven.
To rock or to code.
These are the tools of the great contemporary disrupters, coding every bit as potent as Stratocasters and Les Pauls. Both the rockers and the coders had the same idea. Remake the world in new and radical ways. Change everything.
And both showed great disdain for the unwashed masses who inhabit the middle of the universe and don’t have a clue what the hell is going on. The drones. The clones. The mundane. The battalions of beige and sensible shoes.
You know, the rest of us.