Today’s contrarian advice is as following: Don’t study STEM, don’t learn to code and don’t work in IT. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, if you’re old or young, if you’re black, yellow, red or white. My advice applies to everyone. There are good reasons I’m offering you this advice.
To start with, money is not the most important thing in the world. We overvalue money in our era, because we’re reaching the end of economic growth. A degree in STEM will make your life more comfortable, that’s true. You can buy a house in a good neighborhood, you don’t have to worry about paying off your college debt and you won’t become unemployed.
However, there are things more important in life than money. IT will corrupt your soul. Computers as we know them have been around for about fifty years, not counting that weird thing Babbage and Lord Byron’s daughter were screwing around with. Your body and brain were not designed to tinker with computers. You have to be stunted in other ways, to become a good computer jockey. In the words of Don Colacho: “In order to make the technician devote all his attention to his job, industrial society, without disfiguring his skull, compresses his brain.”
Computer jockeys my dear reader, are stunted people. The computer jockey listens to repetitive techno music he refers to as “minimal”. It soothes him as he writes the stories that tell the computer what to do. The computer jockey has no great ground-breaking thoughts. He’s a simple man, with simple ideas. He is dogmatic. Computers deal with rigid absolute truths, so he too has learned to see the world in the form of rigid absolute truths. He looks up to other computer jockeys, who run some prominent open source project. He adheres to some sort of arbitrary creed he refers to as “libertarian”. It tends to amount to the idea that technology inevitably makes the world better and whatever people are willing to pay money for must be what the world benefits from.
Now, you might imagine you’ll escape becoming a real computer jockey. You’ll learn a very niche skill and spend 32 hours a week telling a computer what to do. At age 30 your investments will have grown exponentially and you’ll retire early and devote your time to your family and learning genuinely valuable knowledge. At age 35, you’ll insist with a straight face that you haven’t got a clue how to make a computer say “hello world” anymore. Newsflash: That’s not going to happen. If you join IT, you become IT.
You can’t gaze into the abyss, without the abyss gazing back at you. You think you’ll be the exception. You will climb into his underground lair, beat the digital demiurg in a staring contest and wander away with his treasure. But as you jump into a chasm, you are welcomed by the sight of a thousand corpses, the remnants of men you recognize. Brave men who had the life sucked out of them, whose individuality was sacrificed as they became little more than nourishment for this evil blight. What makes you think that you will be different, that you will escape?
To start with, a mediocre computer jockey doesn’t get anywhere in life. You have to keep up with the other robots, or you end up working long hours, for little pay. You’ll maintain other people’s old projects, rather than building your own, which will turn you into the laughing stock of the computer jockey pecking order. So, you’re going to dive in and transform into what you practice.
Like a disgusting invasive slime mold on a dirty petri dish, the part of your brain that governs cold mathematical logic will expand and grow to dominate your personality. Your colleagues will offer you soylent and insist to you that it has all the nutrients a human body needs. “Why eat, why go to the supermarket, why cook a meal, if you can just drink soylent?” The machine-brains will insist to you. You will say no the first two times, but on the third try you will accept it. A part of you just died.
There are a few radical notions we have to go over now, to get you to understand why this is so bad. To start with, all of life is an art. It genuinely doesn’t matter what your net worth is at an age where your third chin covers your clavicles and your nose has more hair than your scalp. Life is already over at that point, you already lost. There won’t be a wikipedia page that says “at age 70 he could afford a really impressive boat” about you.
Young people shape the world. Political movements are led by young people, art that gives insight into the human condition is created by young people and companies that change the world are started by the young. The old derive their dignity from what they did when they were young and how they reflect on it today. If they put numbers into a spreadsheet or wrote computer code, there’s not a whole lot of dignity for them.
Another notion I wish to state is as following: All knowledge you can gain in college that’s useful in your career is knowledge you should go without. I support the right of young people to live a normal life without having to attend college, a right that’s increasingly under assault today. However, those young people who choose to go to college should remind themselves that life is not a game of material acquisition.
There are a lot of genuinely valuable things you can learn in college, though most are things you could learn outside college as well. You can learn French, so that you can read Madame Bovary in its original language. You can study history and read Pico della Mirandola’s oration on the dignity of man. You can study English and fall in love with one of the Brontë sisters. You can study zoology and discover all the mesmerizing beauty that predates our own existence.
On the other hand, you can learn how to code in Laravel. You can sit in a class with other boys who play first person shooters together when they’re not coding. You can ask yourself whether you should try your chances with the only girl in class, who always wears the same hoodie. You can build the websites nobody needs, you can perpetuate the cycle of cultural implosion, you can blind yourself to all the things life has to offer that can’t be objectively measured.
The things that are beautiful in life are not things that get paid well. The things that are paid well are things that are ugly. Be strong. Choose poverty. The aristocrats of the soul hide their inner wealth away from the world in this era, an era governed by machine-men, computer jockeys and techno-tinkerers who wouldn’t recognize beauty if it was staring them in the face.
Read Percy Shelley, read W. B. Yeats, read William Blake, read Sara Teasdale, read Sylvia Plath and accept the consequences. There is no shame in making latté art, believe me when I tell you there are far more shameful jobs out there than you can imagine. Your poverty is a crown you should wear with pride. Follow your passions and tell the world that you accept your life will be fucked up because of it.
I don’t want to live in a world filled with computer jockeys, but that’s what economic forces now encourage. The only way for an average Indian man to win a ticket to paradise and move to a first world nation is to learn how to become a computer jockey. An Indian man who becomes an expert on Hermeticism, medieval grimoires, Buddhist theology, or anything else that’s genuinely interesting, stands no genuine chance of leaving his own country of birth.
The solution however, is to get rid of computer jockeys. What should you do if you read this article and realize you became a computer jockey yourself, a number-pinching soylent-drinking spiritually empty automaton? Step zero is to stop pretending that you enjoy coding. You don’t enjoy coding. If you tell me you like coding, I don’t believe you. The next step is to turn in your two weeks notice. I know, that’s easier said than done. Gather the strength, look for an escape hatch. Perhaps you can rob a bank in anticipation.
Step two is to deprogram yourself. Seek out friends who are not computer jockeys. Turn off your computer in the evening. Force yourself to do something else. Go to the library, borrow a book. It doesn’t have to be literature. You can read philosophy. You can read psychological literature, from Carl Jung or Marie-Louise von Franz. There’s an entire world out there, a non-binary world, where words have a meaning that can’t be translated into foreign languages, where beauty can’t be captured in a photograph, where things happen for reasons that are not the product of deterministic mathematical forces. If you allow the world to have meaning it will.
There is always hope. It’s not too late for you. Miracles happen. People in wheelchairs have walked again, frogs rain from the sky sometimes, computer jockeys can wake up one day and realize they have a soul again. There is a fire inside your heart that still burns, a purity that can not be defiled. Don’t surrender, don’t give up, you still know deep down that this is not what you are and never will be.
Beautiful man, great job.
All you are complaining about is IT and computer jockey’ing
Why shouldn’t people be physicists, engineers or doctors?
Take a non binary approach in the spirit of the article. It’s not meant to be taken at face value. He’s reversing the conformist one size fits all mantra society duck speaks insofar as telling everyone to do STEM or more specifically coding to service the corpo-rat sector. It’s a mockery of such reductionist thinking.
Do you have citations?
If only you knew how bad things really are.
This is exactly what I needed to read at this point in my life. Thanks man.
In your opinion, do we need a final solution for computer jockeys?
I already thought this earlier. Oh my god you don’t know how extremely worried I am that I will stumble and fuck up and become a computer programmer or some shit. Im being completely serious. I’m trying to live above minimum wage after college and maybe get a decent humble life out in the countryside but my worst fear is fucking up and going into debt and living in an apartment and working for somebody elses dream. Goddamn I really fucking hate the bastards of economic incentives. A lot of the parties to blame are the jews, alcoholics, and whores. Without them we could all just farm and build cabins. No, instead we have war, silicon valley, and the NSA.
This is excellent. Thank you for writing this, I needed it, even though there are parts that bring up shame. I discovered this page because I have been reading a lot of Don Colacho’s aphorisms recently….
And here I am – staring into a screen, in the placeless void of the web, anonymously connecting with the ideas of a total stranger in a such a deep way. We are all computer jockey’s to some degree or another. Our screens are our environment. At this point I think the only ones who got it right in regards to technology were the Amish.
I actually took an intro the Python programming class a month or so ago. I thought it would be something useful for my resume, but all throughout I was thinking to myself that while I may be capable at programming, it is certainly not something I would enjoy. Very happy to read some support of my instincts here.
A quote from Wendell Berry –
“As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
“Your body and brain were not designed to tinker with computers” is completely false because it ignores the element of time. The brain is malleable and the neurons pathways adjust depending on the stimuli most reinforced. A child 10,000 years ago has not been designed by evolution to play chess, learn calculus, or master sign language. Yet, instances of these are apparent today because the brain is a learning machine based on the timing of the society it develops in. A later timed society would have significantly more advanced knowledge to teach, while earlier timed society would have reduced depth of knowledge. I could make the same argument that “Your body and brain were not designed to read and write” as written literature only originated in the past 6,000 years at best, and the millions of years of primitive human beings that existed before it had no evidence it was designed to communicate in this format. “Your body and brain were not designed to paint, sculpt, create poetry, weave, or create tools” is the same argument as the one you’re making if you abstract the element of time away and only take the most primitive ape-like human being possible as your template for what the brain “should be” designed to think.
Computers are a recent development, so it is a low-effort System 2 argument to state that working with computers isn’t natural because time shows that it breaks the model of the previous functions of the society that appeared before it. But so too does the industrial machine break the model of hand-crated works in the 1800’s, the human engineers back then “weren’t designed” to manipulate the first steam engine, electrical wires, or oil burner back then either. How far do you have to go back in time before something is acceptably normal in society to be designed in such a way for humans to interact with it in a non-controversial way according to your perspective? “You have to be stunted in other ways, to become a good computer jockey.” Well, taking that argument to a person who grew up in a rural village in the middle of Africa 4000 B.C. and never learned to read or write his entire life, only learning to communicate with singing drugs, you have to be stunted to think you could communicate to other humans with a cold 1-dimensional alphabetic matrix that abstracts away tone, pitch, and depth. What you consider the norm is completely relative to the environment you grow up in. Just because the development of the Turing machine in WWII which would lead to the creation of the first modern computers is a recent development does not take away from the fact that this technology would be no more as controversial to human brains as the first ape who grabbed the first stone rock hundreds of thousands of years ago and began to sharpen it.
I mostly like this piece, but take serious issue with this –
> It genuinely doesn’t matter what your net worth is at an age where your third chin covers your clavicles and your nose has more hair than your scalp. Life is already over at that point, you already lost. There won’t be a wikipedia page that says “at age 70 he could afford a really impressive boat” about you. Young people shape the world. Political movements are led by young people, art that gives insight into the human condition is created by young people and companies that change the world are started by the young. The old derive their dignity from what they did when they were young and how they reflect on it today. If they put numbers into a spreadsheet or wrote computer code, there’s not a whole lot of dignity for them.
Artificially limiting your useful life-span to 30 seems much sadder than working as a programmer.
Donald Knuth is way cooler than you will ever be. Checkmate, atheist!