programming the angel that needs the devil

Tue, May 25, 2010

There’s a Buddhist adage that you must look to your impact on the world and how much harm is being caused by what you do for a living. It’s called Mindfulness. And there’s the concept of Green Computing, which is really just the word Computing preceded by the word Green. There’s nothing green about computing. It relies on electricity and plastic which rely on oil which is at the opposite end of the environmental spectrum. And as a programmer I need hardware, i.e. computers of some sort, in order to program.

Today I applied Mindfulness to what I do and it cut me to the bone. I program the iPhone but in order to get an iPhone on my desk, a 16 year old girl died of a heart attack in a Taiwanese factory. A 19 year old and a 21 year old jumped off the roof. One the one hand I hear Steve Jobs bandy around platitudes about customer satisfaction and porn free living, while the young kids who make his hardware commit suicide due to the working conditions. Young kids who not only could never afford the Apple Experience but who actually took their own lives bringing it to us. And what do programmers do with this hardware? They make Fart Apps.

But what really broke my heart this morning was this. It’s a young Heron dying from oil pollution on the Gulf Coast, where BP has created possibly the worst environmental disaster that humans have ever wreaked on the planet. They have wreaked this on my behalf. On the behalf of all programmers, all computer users, all patronising billionaires.

As a mountain guide I see the damage caused by countless boots on fragile ecosystems but the outdoors industry contributes funds to the repair of damaged paths and they help promote awareness of environmental damage. Some companies donate a portion of the money you pay for their gear, to environmental causes. The computing industry does no such thing.

Programming does have a cost. It has a terrible cost. Look at the picture of the young Heron.

I knew a wise and world weary contractor, who summed up programming fairly well. He said that it was amazing that he could sit down at a blank screen, write some code and cause millions of transistors to do his bidding which resulted in the smile of his young daughter as a game came to life before her eyes.

Times change and as the oil runs out and becomes harder to extract, the environmental price of programming is going to increase. Isn’t it time the billionaires started contributing to the cleanup?

Programming is still a wonderful thing but from now on, it’s the Angel that needs The Devil to survive.

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