Creating the Eliza chatterbot was something completely new for me. I have never coded before, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Even though the tutorial was extremely simple, I never thought of coding as something I could easily grasp so I was pleased when my final program ran successfully. Something I learned about coding that made me understand it in a more literary sense is that there is not just one way to achieve the desired result. Coders take different approaches, and as codes become more and more complex, programmers make choices at the level of the code they write just as writers make choices at a textual level.
Debating whether programming is writing in class today augmented the new understanding of programming I gained from creating the Eliza bot. At first, I wondered how such a mechanical language could be considered “literary.” I found coding more analogous to an instruction sheet than a novel. But after the lab, I realized what lends coding a literary quality is the process, not the result. As I built a more complex program during each step of the tutorial, I found myself memorizing techniques, typing out letter and symbol sequences, and making decisions to achieve a particular outcome. These are all certainly qualities of other “literary” processes like writing a novel or a research paper. In her article “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” Hayles helped me understand coding as a type of literary process because she argues that the definition of “literary” should expand to more modern processes of reading and writing. Interactions between print and digital literacies are increasingly common, and should be embraced as “new kinds of reading techniques, pedagogical strategies, and initiatives” (65).
Ramsay and Rockwell also gave me perspective on this topic in their dialogue “Writing as Programming as Writing.” One idea in particular addressed a presumption that I held about coding before completing this lab: the idea that the language was merely representative and too simple to be considered literary. Ramsay argues that since all language is innately imperative at the core, a constrictive language like code doesn’t make it a less communicative language. In fact, coding could be considered highly communicative since it works within a simple word and symbol set. Using a language—however simple, mechanical, and straightforward—that works to build content, convey ideas, and achieve a particular outcome can surely be considered a literary endeavor at many levels.