Posted by David Chandler on April 13, 2011
A long-time friend now working on his PhD in physics recently wrote me about some MATLAB coding he was doing and noted that
I’ve begun to get the right results and it’s making me pretty happy. It’s been too long since I coded…
I found this alarming, as it indicates he may be in the early stages of HTCD, Happiness Through Coding Disorder. Haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised, as I just made it up, but perhaps you’ll recognize the symptoms:
Patient’s manipulation of computing apparatus results in the perception of progress and activation of pleasure centers in the brain. Even though no physical work has been accomplished nor the expenditure of energy moving a mass from one location to another, patient believes that he has been working, or in some cases that the computing apparatus has been working for him. The patient’s satisfaction with perceived work accomplishments may lead to increasing withdrawal from social contact as well as temporary failure to complete daily activities such as personal hygiene, sleeping, and even eating. Extended periods of computational exposure known as “coding” may lead to harmful changes in lifestyle and constant preoccupation with the behavior of the computing apparatus. Some patients have been known to sit fixated in front of the monitor for 7 to 14 hours moving only the muscles of their fingertips in order to produce imperceptible changes in machine behavior. These sessions are often punctuated by short periods of euphoria during which the patient appears otherwise normal, albeit socially awkward due to frequent references to the behavior of the machine.
I have lived with (note: NOT “suffered with”) HTCD since age 14 when I first taught myself BASIC programming on a friend’s TRS-80 Model I. By the time I wrote a word processor in assembly language in high school for the TI-99/4A (in order to correct the impedance mismatch between my 40-column screen and 80-column dot matrix printer so I could turn in a nicely-formatted essay for a contest), my HTCD was already quite advanced. Thankfully, I have experienced minimal physical deterioration thanks to the techniques and devices discussed in the Ergonomics category on this blog. The effect on my career has been very positive though rocky at times. Also very fortunately, my wife and children are quite understanding of my condition.
As time progresses, I hope we can learn more about HTCD so we can transmit it successfully to the next generation. I worry sometimes that the Facebook generation gets more joy out of using computers than programming them (or more pleasure from playing games than writing them), which is clearly a distortion of the human-computer relationship.