Thursday, December 30, 2021

The 2021 Christmas Octave: AARON PANG, Code


We had so many great cover essays for this year's Advent Calendar that we're extending it this time around to include the Octave of Christmas (Christmas Day through New Year's Day). We'll also continue publishing cover essays into the next year, so if you've got an idea, pitch us (email Will or Ander, or ping us on twitter). Happy Holidays! —Will and Ander




If (plastic === ‘motion’) { code = ‘thought’; }

Code is meaningless. At least the name is. Ask any non-practitioner of code to describe it and odds are you will get a description closer to that of magic than that of science. Ask a practitioner of code and odds are their answer will start with the phrase…”well actually…”.
     Yet even with no clear definition, the modulated, hyphenated, coloned, parenthesized, functional, bracketed, camelCased, variable, compiled, classed, factored, and refactored strings of text that makeup code means something. We coders, the writers of code, like us writers, the writers of word, all know that to be true. That the meaning made through its writing is significant, even if the meaning is not explicitly defined.
     That undefined possibility is what lends this material, code, its power. We didn’t need our computer science professors to tell us that the script we wrote to build the child’s game of tic-tac-toe was important. Its power was realized when upon the code’s execution, where on our screen there were none, tics, tacs, and toes appeared. 
     If plastic is the physical embodiment of motion, then code is the digital embodiment of thought. Code is the dissection of reasoning, of logic, of cause and effect. It breaks down a thought into ideas, and those ideas into conditions, processes, and cases. This digestion of thought continues until the comprehensible becomes incomprehensible. And it is on these motes of incomprehensibility, code, that we have built our entire digital world.
     Software engineers sit at supercomputers the size of spiral bound notebooks, writing line after line of code in integrated development environments. Line after line are compiled into applications running on operating systems, executing commands that have been converted into machine language readable only by the hardware. Line after line after line exist only as 1’s and 0’s.
     There is an endless conversion happening, an unceasing program to codify. It is done by us, all of us companies, coders, non-coders, your distant aunt on Facebook. We don’t know why, perhaps it is for progress, or efficiency, or just curiosity. Some of the conversions are easy. Quantifiable representations: a nation’s population, a bank account balance, barrels of oil imported, reams of paper produced, COVID cases, Tinder right swipes, the weight of a newborn baby. Other conversions are harder, like capturing who we are as people. Yet, we still try. Databases fill with approximations of who we are. The articles we half-read, the songs we played, the people we’ve stalked, the porn we’ve watched. It is an incomplete facsimile.
     But this digital facsimile is becoming less and less a facsimile. Instead it has become a truth in and of itself. Take the historical transmutation of code. There are little remnants of its original form. The evolutionary path between the IBM punch cards and the Java IDE is not obvious. Vacuum tubes no longer fit inside our smartphones. The physical space taken by the original computers have now given way to an infinite digital one. 
     The physical is no longer the determinant of the digital. There is now a bidirectional relationship between the physical and the digital. The two realms now dictate each other. If your account balance reads zero on the screen, there is no physical way to correct it. You can stuff wrinkled bills into an envelope and throw it at a teller, but until those pixels change, until the code is executed, you still have zero.
     How the zero becomes anything else no one really knows. Some can make an educated guess. This is the incomprehensibility that exists with code. The lay person has no real ability to interact with it. At least with plastic you can break it with a hammer. No physical force can stop code in its modern day manifestation. It executes with no regard. It is an untouchable material. There will always be a gap between the finger and the button it presses. 
     The gap between the finger and the button is the gap between the intent of the click and the code executed. Anything can be written within a button’s function. When clicked, the code in the function runs. The function is an infinite space within another infinite space. A footnote in a book that is a book within itself. The button is not limited to one action regardless of intent. With the right code you can launch nuclear weapons while ordering a pizza. All that functionality with just one-click. 
     Yet we continue to push every button we have access to. Thousands of times a day. We press, click and push these little gateways into the digital world. Each press with an expressed intention. We click play to watch the TV Show (The Americans on FX on Amazon Prime Video). We click search to find the name of the lead actress: Keri Russell. We click buy because Keri Russell was holding a can of Coke in Season 3 Episode 6 (I don’t know if that’s true, I’m not there yet). Each button is a trigger. Each press executing code. 
     But every button's function always starts empty. An empty button does nothing. There is no code to run, no materials to use. Only the promise of possibility. When I was a practitioner of code, we would build these buttons. I would sit and watch test subjects click and click again. The experiment would always go on longer than expected. They would continue to click. Their actions, illogical and instinctual. Each subject never knew why they clicked when we asked. Perhaps they hoped that on the next click some code would run. 

let code;
let nonPractitioner = "magic";
let practitioner = "well actually...";
let describeCode = code ? nonPractitioner : practitioner;

if(typeof code === 'undefined') {
  code = 'something';  
} else {
  code = 'something';

if(typeof code ==='undefined' && !isFinite(code)) {
  let ticTacToe = null;
  ticTacToe = true;

if(plastic === 'motion') {
  code = 'thought';

let reasoning, logic, causeAndEffect;

code = reasoning + logic + causeAndEffect;

let idea = {
  conditions:'if this then that',

let thought = [idea, idea, idea];

let converting = true;
let physical = [
  'a nation’s population', 
  'a bank account balance', 
  'barrels of oil imported', 
  'reams of paper produced', 
  'COVID cases', 
  'Tinder right swipes', 
  'the weight of a newborn baby',
  'articles half-read',
  'songs played',
  'people stalked',
  'porn watched',
let digital = {};
    switch(thing) {
      case 'a nation’s population':
        digital[thing] = 329500000;
      case 'a bank account balance':
        digital[thing] = 5533;
      case 'barrels of oil imported':
        digital[thing] = 7860000;
      case 'reams of paper produced':
        digital[thing] = 68000000;
      case 'COVID cases':
        digital[thing] = 49500000;
      case 'Tinder right swipes':
        digital[thing] = 454;
      case 'the weight of a newborn baby':
        digital[thing] = 8;
      case 'articles half-read':
        digital[thing] = [
          'The White Album',
          'Why I write',
          'Death of a Moth',
          'The Fourth State of Matter',
      case 'songs played':
        digital[thing] = [
          "Best Part",
          "Ain't no sunshine",
          "Eleanor Rigby"
      case 'people stalked':
        digital[thing] = [
      case 'porn watched': 
        digital[thing] = [
          "Asa Akira anal bukkake",
          "Babysitter caught by stealing by father",
          "Sissy boy punished",
          "Asian girls fingered",

physical = digital;
digital = physical;

if(digital['a bank account balance'] === 0) {
  physical['a bank account balance'] = 0;

code.canTouch = false;

const button = <Button/>;

button.canTouch = false;

let willPressButton = true;

let buttons = [

while (willPressButton) {

button.onClick = () => {}


Aaron Pang is a writer based out of Oakland, CA telling stories to anyone who will listen. He’s currently getting his MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Iowa. Aaron’s work can be found on The Moth Radio Hour and America’s Test Kitchen. Twitter: @AaronZengPang

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