Grounded in media studies and aesthetic philosophy, this thesis has nonetheless aimed at expanding the domain of what is traditionally considered beautiful, and how it is considered so, by examining the relations between beauty, function and knowledge in the specific medium of source code. Drawing on an interdisciplinary approach, the outcomes of this research therefore have some impact on both the arts and sciences in general, and programming in particular.
Deliberately eschewing notions of the artistic in favor of the beautiful, the definition work at the beginning of this thesis implicitly hypothesized that studies of beauty decoupled from art can be rich and fruitful, revealing a plethora of practices focusing on making something nice, rather than, e.g., sublime. This thesis is therefore inscribed in aesthetics of the everyday, and would suggest ways to apply aesthetic judgments to objects of study usually excluded from the aesthetic realm. Additionally, we have shown how such an object—source code—possess mechanics of meaning-making of their own, enabling unique semantic structures.
We also consider implications for programmers and craftspeople. Not that they need this work to realize that aesthetics and functionality are deeply intertwined, but rather as an explicit account of the ways in which this entanglement happens. For programmers, keeping in mind notions of scale, distance and metaphor within a particular source code would support better work. For other creators, we hope this would encourage them to investigate what is it that makes their material unique, and how it relates to other disciplines, and how formal arrangements can be rigorously thought about, as an effective communication medium.
Ultimately, this work also has ethical implication. Knowledge, by enabling one's agency, supports and encourages good work, as opposed to meaningless labour. By organizing program texts in such a way that the next individual can discover and understand underlying concepts transmitted through the medium of source code, and then build on and complement this knowledge with their own contribution, one engages in an ethically altruistic behaviour, as opposed to self-reflexive references.
In closing, we see two main directions which can spring form this thesis, exploring the intricacies of ciomputer-readable knowledge management, and the worldmaking of code.
The unfolding of digital media in the second half of the twentieth century has been seen as an epochal shift, along with other technologies of information reproduction and diffusion. However, computational media is specific insofar as it can be compressed and presented under various forms (from electricity to three-dimensional graphical environments and highly-dimensional vector spaces in recent machine learning approaches). How does the shape of software impact knowledge management and transmission, not just for programmers, but for end users as well, starting from those in the information sciences such as librarians, educators, journalists, researchers, and expanding to anyone engaging in a meaning-making work within a computer environment. While aesthetics can help to signify complex concepts within source code, do those concepts translate at other interface levels, or do these subsequent levels hold aesthetics principles of their own? How can the malleability of code help understanding at various levels of representation?