Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You can and must understand computers NOW

computer lib

One of the reasons why I was so disappointed with the One Laptop Per Child's decision not to support teachers in their supposed mission of educating children is because I know that its not enough to put a computer in front of a child and expect that a savvy computer user will emerge in time.

I know this because when I was young, my gadget-loving dad brought home an Apple IIe and for the life of me, I couldn't make it do anything but use it for word processing and to play games that one my dad's co-workers kindly copied for us. It wasn't that I wasn't interested in computers. By that time I had already taken a couple "computers for young people" classes through the local community college. But my knowledge of BASIC did me no good and the manuals that Apple provided may as well been written in binary. The computer was a black box with big floppy disks.

Fast forward to high school. I was one of 3 or 4 girls in a computer class and we pretty much kept to ourselves. Eventually our classmate Brian would occasionally join us in our corner and amuse us with stories. After we gave him our respective username and passwords ( a strange trust exercise / friendship ritual that kids continue to do today) he somehow created little animated stick drawings that would display when we logged in at our terminals at the beginning of class. Somehow Brian had learned to do all sorts of cool and strange things that were never mentioned in class. When I asked him how he figured all this out, he told me that he and a small group of guys would hang out in the computer lab and over time had picked up tricks from each other and the teacher who was supportive of their interests.

Similarly, I eventually figured out that many computer enthusiasts became what they are through the help of other computer enthusiasts through user groups, or BBS, or Usenet.

In short, it takes a village to raise a geek.

Now, through the miracle that we call the Internet, its even easier to learn how to learn about computing. There are all sorts of manuals, FAQs and tutorials about like the newly resurrected webmonkey which I used some years ago to build my own HTML skills. And more importantly, there are kind people like Dan Chudnov who are willing to help you to learn2code.

The support is there. You just have to figure a project that you want to do and then beat things with rocks until its working.

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