This week, I thought a lot about beauty and sublimity in technological production. I am coming back to Winner’s idea that the sublime is the moment of imagined potential but also the moment of imagined terror. Nuclear reactors and surveillance technologies hold this moment, the moment when the world will either be much better or much worse. But there is another kind of beauty, too — one which I don’t think I yet understand. The informational equivalent of the perfectly designed glass carafes at the Louvre, in the tiny hot room on the way to the Venus de Milo. The mysteries of computer code, embedded and enfolded upon itself.
My problem is how to see that as beauty – it is so abstract and distant. I feel almost that saying code is beautiful is like saying that the insides of a refrigerator are beautiful. Of course they are beautiful for those who know how a refrigerator works, but it is hard for us to consume them as beautiful objects in the way that we consume the carafes at the Louvre – as aesthetically lovely outside of their functional capacity. My question is, for those people who maybe sometimes read this blog but never dare to comment, how can we see that beautiful (or elegant) code is beautiful?