Machiko Yasuda

Ignorant humility

More gems from Ellen Ullman’s “Close to the Machine”:

“And I’ll have to muddle through without certainties. Without my father’s belief that the machinery of capital, if you worked hard and log, was benign in the long run, so benign you could even own a piece of it. Without my generation’s macho leftism, which made us think we could smash the machine and build a better one… But all that can wait.

“I’ve managed to stay in a perpetual state of learning only by maintaining what I think of as a posture of ignorant humility. This humility is as mandatory as arrogance… There is only one way to deal with this humiliation: bow you head, let go of the idea that you know anything, and ask politely of this new machine “How do you wish to be operated?” If you accept your ignorance, once you really admit to yourself that everything you know is now useless, the new machine will be good to you and tell you: here is how to operate me.”

“The corollary to constant change is ignorance. This is not often talked about: we computer experts barely know what we’re doing. We’re good at fussing and figuring out. We function well in a sea of unknowns. Our experience has only prepared us to deal with confusion. A programmer who denies this is probably lying, or else densely unaware of himself.”