Bitwise: A Life in Code

tags: programming, philosophy

I’d really like to give this 3.5 stars – four seems like too much, but three is too little.

The book is weird. It’s not about “code,” really. It’s about human representation in code. It’s really about how humans relate to code, and about how humans are represented as code.

Two chapters in the middle are representative, and neither have anything to do with code –

One discussed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). I was reading this, and I was like, “What the hell?” But I came to understand that the chapter was about how the DSM attempts to codify humans. It tries to take the entirety of human experience and dial it down to numbered disorders in a book. It’s turning humans into code.

The next chapter was about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). This is the opposite – it’s an attempt to create a set of rules and numeric attributes that describe the human experience. It’s trying to turn code into humans.

Later, he goes into a chapter about how Facebook and other marketing platforms attempt to sum up users by marketing categories, and how governments and law enforcement have done the same thing to try to predict crimes.

At the tail end of the book, I started to understand what the author was getting at. There is a lot of fluff here – some of the chapters seem indulgent and wasteful. But the larger point is interesting. Can the human experience be dialed down into numbers? Are we trying to do this too much?

So, a mixed bag. Subtly thought-provoking, if not Earth-shattering. I’m glad I read it.

Book Info