The BASIC computer language turned fifty today. It was the second non-human language I learned, after Texas Instrument’s SR-52 programming “language” (read: keystrokes). The last paragraph in the SR-52’s manual said something like: “…If you want to learn more about programming, look for a book on BASIC.”
The visceral thrill I felt when I finished a 4-player Monopoly® game on the SR-52. 3½ hour games were now brisk 45 minute ones. No calculating 10% luxury tax, no shuffling around making change for paying rent. Bing, bang, done.
The next thing I learned from programming was that just because something is made easier doesn’t make it better. The stodgy details of the board game turned into a boring set of whizzing shoes, dogs and flatirons. Sure, the game only lasted 45 minutes: but it was devoid of the social interactions.
Now it’s 38 years later and I’m still learning, still exploring. I’m not a perfect programmer, and I’m not a mathematician programmer. I see programming as a kind of poetry: governed by rules as stringent as the iambic pentameter and rhyming forms of a Shakespearean sonnet.
Languages change over time and yet remain the same: BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN, PL/1, TECO gave way to C++, Java, Ruby, lua, and their ilk. More words, a more complex syntax. The nuanced idea that statements create functions which can endlessly aggregate into larger and still more powerful programs.
Haiku to verse to story to novella to epic. To volumes of functional poetry that powers our social, electronic world.