How Much Code Should A Citizen Know?

If I want to start a mass movement but have no scripting skills, am I missing a trick? If I want to start a new local campaign, but have no clue as to how to pull and push data from an API, am I doomed to failure?

Overlay my last two posts (on digital tools for Boris Bikes; and how to wage cyber-resistance) and I think an interesting question arises:  How much code should a Citizen know?*

Its clear that literacy and numeracy are essentials for active citizenship as they are for Life and Work.  For millenia, the ability to communicate your thoughts in a clear and pithy manner has been a prerequisite for campaigners, dissidents and indeed anyone who wanted to be part of the civic discourse.  In recent decades, I would certainly add ‘A working knowledge of Microsoft Office’ to that list, along with an ease at using the Internet.  They teach all this at school now.

But is that enough?  My feeling is that, at the very least, basic HTML skills should be included too.  you need to know the difference between your <em> and your <img> and your <a href> tags if you want to communicate efficiently.  For the professional political campaigner, these are certainly essential.  I cannot shake the feeling that they should be equally indespensible for the average citizen, too.  Do they learn this stuff in school yet?

And when HTML and CSS are taught in schools, what more should political campaigners be learning?  If I want to start a mass movement but have no scripting skills, am I missing a trick?  If I want to start a new local campaign, but have no clue as to how to pull and push data from an API, am I doomed to failure?

I am reminded of The New Liberal Arts prospectus:

A generation of digital natives is careening towards college. The economy is rebooting itself weekly. We have new responsibilities now—as employees, citizens, and friends—and we have new capabilities, too. The new liberal arts equip us for a world like this. But… what are they?

‘Coding and Decoding’ and ‘Translation’ are two of the skills listed briefly, but the authors don’t go into specifics.  It would be interesting to put some flesh on the bone.


* I deliberately capitalised ‘Citizen’ to distinguish between the literal sense of the word (i.e. someone of a particular country with the rights afforded to all citizens; and a person who participates in that democracy.

5 thoughts on “How Much Code Should A Citizen Know?”

  1. i fear this is not as applicable as it appears.

    Small bits of HTML are certainly jpart of everyday life. But beyond minimal exposure the fact is these are engineered standards. They are not always friendly and the idea that political freedom is somehow dependent on understanding how innerText works in IE is not pleasant.

    Much better that people understand how to use a WYSIWYG editor.

  2. I agree that some kind of tech literacy is really important. I think that rather than knowing some of the details of say HTML, it’s more important to know structural principles – what markup is and how it differs in Word and webpages, how and why it’s good to separate web content and markup, what platforms are and how important it is that content now is usually structured to be available on mobile, RSS, web etc; even how imporant commenting is, and why agile development works.

    I suppose knowing basic HTML might be a bit like knowing how to lay out a letter, but most people are most likely to use WYSIWYG editors.

    What does it mean we as adults ought to learn now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *