You Are Not Expected to Understand This

How 26 Lines of Code Changed the World

Leading technologists, historians, and journalists reveal the stories behind the computer coding that touches all aspects of life―for better or worse

Few of us give much thought to computer code or how it comes to be. The very word “code” makes it sound immutable or even inevitable. “You Are Not Expected to Understand This” demonstrates that, far from being preordained, computer code is the result of very human decisions, ones we all live with when we use social media, take photos, drive our cars, and engage in a host of other activities.

Everything from law enforcement to space exploration relies on code written by people who, at the time, made choices and assumptions that would have long-lasting, profound implications for society. Torie Bosch brings together many of today’s leading technology experts to provide new perspectives on the code that shapes our lives. Contributors discuss a host of topics, such as how university databases were programmed long ago to accept only two genders, what the person who programmed the very first pop-up ad was thinking at the time, the first computer worm, the Bitcoin white paper, and perhaps the most famous seven words in Unix history: “You are not expected to understand this.”

This compelling book tells the human stories behind programming, enabling those of us who don’t think much about code to recognize its importance, and those who work with it every day to better understand the long-term effects of the decisions they make.

With an introduction by Ellen Ullman and contributions by Mahsa Alimardani, Elena Botella, Meredith Broussard, David Cassel, Arthur Daemmrich, Charles Duan, Quinn DuPont, Claire L. Evans, Hany Farid, James Grimmelmann, Katie Hafner, Susan C. Herring, Syeda Gulshan Ferdous Jana, Lowen Liu, John MacCormick, Brian McCullough, Charlton McIlwain, Lily Hay Newman, Margaret O’Mara, Will Oremus, Nick Partridge, Benjamin Pope, Joy Lisi Rankin, Afsaneh Rigot, Ellen R. Stofan, Lee Vinsel, Josephine Wolff, and Ethan Zuckerman.


“[An] intriguingly human collection of articles . . . [from] contributors, including programmers, technologists, historians, journalists and academics.”
—Andrew Robinson, Nature
“A wonderful book. . . . The writing is clear, and you don’t need to know anything about computers to understand pretty much every line of this book. A must-read!”
—Jonathan Shock, Mathemafrica
“A highly relevant collection of short essays. . . . [You Are Not Expected to Understand This] is intended to develop readers’ appreciation for the critical role of software in their lives.”
― Choice
“In truth, ‘You Are Not Expected to Understand This’ is startlingly understandable! These vivid, lucid, brilliant essays tell the origin stories of coding, the secret infrastructure that shapes our online life. We meet the people who wrote and rewrote the lines of code that changed the world. We glimpse their ambitions, mistakes, remorse, fixes, and ingenuity. We understand why (and how) women were the ones who designed early programming languages like COBOL; how pop-up ads came to exist; how the ‘like’ button blew up news and politics as we knew them. Read this book, and you will never look at your newsfeed the same way again.”
―Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
“Code governs our lives―and this book does a delightful job of giving us a glimpse into some of the biggest wins, and most colossal blunders, in software.”
―Clive Thompson, author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World
“Code powers much of modern life, yet most of us spend little time thinking about it. This book will change that. Wide-ranging, provocative, and bursting with humanity, ‘You Are Not Expected to Understand This’ is essential reading on the history and culture of code.”
―Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

About the Author

As the editor of Future Tense, a joint collaboration between New America, Slate, and Arizona State University, Torie Bosch covers emerging technologies and their effects on public policy and society. Prior to joining New America, she was an associate editor at Slate, where she edited the medical and religion departments. Torie is a graduate of Penn State University, where she majored in English with minors in business, media studies, and Latin.

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