Beki Grinter

The Personality of the State: Computers, Flags, People and Experience

In computer science, European Union, women on June 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Jeremy Paxman, when commenting on the difference between a monarchy and a Presidential system said that a key difference was personality. In the United Kingdom there’s a person who represents the state, the Monarch. In the United States that representation is wrapped up in the flag. His theory about why you can’t burn the flag is that it stands for the nation state.¬†The advantage of an object is that at times it maybe more trustworthy. The advantage of a person is that when it works, it’s a rich multi-faceted entity. It was notable that the current Australian Prime Minister is suggesting that the next best time to discuss Australia becoming a republic is when there’s a change of Monarch. A change of person.

What’s this got to do with the day job. In Computing we’re frequently in the business where one thing stands for another. The machine, and it’s encoding of responsibilities, of “duties” if you will, stands in for a part of the business or education or volunteer or domestic world that it has been tasked for. A computer represents something that is bigger than its place as an object might imply. I have often thought that programming the computer is a form of expression of the world, it’s a set of statements about how some aspect of the world works, whether it be bank transaction processing, the game of scrabble, or email. Through what is made possible for the end-users, so the machine becomes more than just an object but an experience. And that it seems to me is somewhat similar to the idea of a flag or a person representing a state.

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