Thanksgiving Back: a Code&Quill Reflection
On Thursday, many of us will be home with our families for Thanksgiving. Some of us will have Friendsgiving instead. Yet others might celebrate it in comfortable solitude, save the company of a dog or cat.
No matter our company, Thanksgiving is the occasion on which we’re supposed to count our blessings and think more deeply on the good things we have in life. When many of us spend this holiday surrounded by people we love, or at least thinking of them, Thanksgiving reflections are naturally very personal. And since most people treat Thanksgiving as a short vacation from work, our reflections on this occasion often omit the professional treasures we’ve gathered.
It might seem unpious to be thankful for one’s work at Thanksgiving, but it feels warmer and warmer the more we think about it. After all, to people like us, who are strongly motivated by what we do, our jobs and companies represent the best kind of freedom: the ability to be successful doing something you believe in. We are grateful for our work because our work sustains our freedom. In turn, we can also be grateful for the people who share that work, who support and trust us and who, by investing of themselves, can make something possible which is larger than all of us.
So maybe a (silent) word of thanks is due your job and your company, if they enrich your life in good ways. But an acknowledgement is due in return; because there is real human investment in successful companies, companies themselves owe some gratitude to the human phenomena and human qualities that make their existence possible.
So, on this occasion, we have a short list of gratitudes—a curtsy to some of the key circumstances that make Code&Quill possible.
First—We’re Thankful for the Rapid Growth of Technology
Not only were we all born in an era of relative plenty, but new developments have never been able to happen at such an athletic pace. In computing, for example, Moore’s Law postulates that the number of transistors on a circuit will double roughly every two years—and thus, will grow exponentially. This is why the smartphones in our pockets in 2015 are, computationally, many times stronger than the engine-sized desktop PCs we had earlier in our lifetimes. (Not to mention that the smartphones also have high-res touch screens, microphone and speakers, battery, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, fingerprint scanners, and multiple cameras built in—and still cost less than that old PC did.)
Remember the grade-school problem about the boss who only pays you a penny the first day, but doubles your pay every day thereafter? This little example is perfect for illustrating exponential growth; you only make $1.27 your whole first week, but you make over a million dollars a day by the end of the month. Even though it compounds every two years, and not daily, computing technology follows this same pattern, and we live in the age where it’s already been working for a very, very long time. Hence, we live now in the Internet Age, where a single idea in computing—the network—can evolve and mutate and fundamentally change the world in only a few short years.
The development of technology has the potential to boost almost every sector of science and research and economy—everything from healthcare to education to transportation to the delivery of goods and services has flourished around us in the modern age, and can now flourish all over again with the Internet. To us, technology is creation. We live in a world where (an especially timely example) programmers can take an idea, a problem they want to solve, and then make a product—software—out of nothing except their effort (albeit great, frustrating amounts of it), and that software can help people tremendously.
Nothing is easier to distribute on the Internet than files and software, of course, but most types of creators can find literal and figurative wealth online in ways that were never possible before. We live in the time of ultimate validation for creative people: never has it been easier to create, no matter what you do, and never has it been easier for your creations to reach—and touch—people all over the world.
Code&Quill is, in some ways, born of this surge in technological growth, but it’s also very much devoted to what’s special about it: that it represents new access to human potential, where everyone can contribute in their own meaningful ways.
Second—We’re Thankful for a Legacy of Literacy
Each generation has its own advice about education, but every generation takes it seriously in one way or another. One cornerstone of education, and this emphasis on education, is literacy—most basically reading and writing, but more, the ability to comprehend and communicate ideas of real substance.
Take, for example, the genesis of Thanksgiving in America. In its modern form, anyway—as a national holiday on the last Thursday of November—it was started in 1863 by presidential proclamation from Abraham Lincoln. Always a man of choice words, Lincoln observed in his proclamation that despite the ravages of the Civil War, the American people had causes for optimism: expanding borders, a rising birth rate, a good harvest, and a lack of foreign invaders. His short written proclamation gave both context and meaning to the American version of Thanksgiving—and, given his legacy, it seems likely that he couldn’t have made such a proclamation meaningfully without first finding it in writing.
In the distant past, our literate legacy started with a habit of letters, dairies, and daybooks among the educated. Everything from the mundane to the monumental was written down, and among the Founding Fathers a love of print and poetry was commonly shared. They understood both the psychological and practical importance of literacy, not just for daily life but for the good of society and the future.
One might assume that our literary diligence would disappear by present day, when books are no longer so sexy. To that point, there are some fair cautions about media in the modern age, such as Neil Postman’s excellent Amusing Ourselves to Death (which has been referenced in a few widely-circulated webcomics, such as this one by Stuart McMillen). But the counterpoint is that we now live in an age where people can gain literacy passively—maybe not with the same degree of sophistication as older bibliophiles, but with education from an information machine where most human knowledge is accessible and every memorable curiosity can be answered. And no matter what year you live in, there’s always someone reputable to tell you to read everything you get your hands on.
This is an ongoing tradition: the recording, and then review, of our collective written record. It gets richer over time and its form is always evolving, and we’re happy to be a part of that in a very literal way.
Third—We're Thankful for Freedom of Thought
Partly, each of us has the lottery of birth to thank for this, for the time and place (and therefore nations and cultures) in which basic freedoms like speech, faith, and assembly are the standard. This is the broader context without which Code&Quill would not be possible.
But, over time, basic freedoms like these can become virtuous. Freedom of speech, for instance, doesn’t simply allow citizens to talk; it allows them, over time, to believe they can speak meaningfully, that they can contribute with their words. In cultures which sustain these freedoms, there persists this undying flame of an idea that every person is capable of important thinking—and even better, that people who carry their own ideas to completion can truly change the world.
Freedom of thought changes us psychically, too. With certain “fences” removed, we see that the space in our minds is boundless, and not merely the little suburbia that our habits would make us believe. We can explore ideas and new information fearlessly; we can make deeper and more abstract connections; we can gain the clarity and understanding to create wonderful things. No less important, we can become more aware of ourselves and more skilled at finding meaning in the world; as David Foster Wallace put it expertly, “‘Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”
When human beings can operate at this level, they are operating at their highest potential—not just in terms of productivity, but in terms of spirit. Writing a farewell six months before he died of cancer, Oliver Sacks concluded: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” There is, perhaps, nothing more rousing to imagine than a world in which people are dignified to live as Sacks did, a world in which the life of mind is celebrated and its fruits openly shared and enjoyed.
This is the world we want to help create—and from the bottom of its pulpy heart, Code&Quill thanks you for the privilege of holding your thoughts. For the same reasons that we’re here, we’re able to believe that the future will be a better place. Seeing this Thanksgiving in light of our work, we don’t have to limit ourselves to being thankful for blessings past; we can also be thankful for a brighter future.
Last week on Ampersand, the Code&Quill blog, we explained why a thank-you was overdue to our backpacks, so take a look here if you missed it. If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter at the foot of the page.