Josh Peck

My work and various curiosities...

Learning Programming and Logo

I recently caught a thread on Reddit. The general question posed was, "Why has this got so much harder to do? Why kids don't program any more." You can read the discussion and see the original post on the site with the aforementioned link.

He really asks two questions:

  1. why are simple (fun) things hard to do with today's computers
  2. why aren't kids excited about programming

The way the question is asked exposes the bias of the author, who obviously thinks that the complexity of today's software is to fault for the lack of enthusiasm. Summarizing, he believes that because technology has become more complicated and inter-dependent, children are less able to do interesting and fun things with computers. That may be so, but I think there is a much simpler answer:

  1. computers aren't new anymore
  2. computers are fun without knowing how they work

When I was young, the computers we had didn't have a lot of software written for them yet, and the software written for them was expensive (for a 10-year-old). But they were new, kind of interesting, and didn't have an internet connection. Without a lot of software to play with, and no internet connection, the computer wasn't of much use until you started sorting through the manuals. Maybe you found a BASIC programming guide that came with the computer, maybe you ordered one through the mail out of curiosity.

Soon you realized you could make loops that would spit out fairly random letters and numbers, moving them all over the screen. Maybe you figured out some of the ASCII codes to make funny characters you didn't have on the keyboard. Maybe you figured out how to talk to the PC speaker and have the machine make noise. All of this took time, taught you about the internals of the computer, and was absolutely free.

Open source / web software is basically free. Since today's computers are able to access hundreds of thousands of games over the internet, many of which are playable through the browser, I suspect that the drive to tinker is being stunted. I can imagine a day where the computer is completely opaque to the person using it.

I find this kind of thinking pretty similar to my parents wondering why I don't find it fun to work on cars. I don't care, because it is not state of the art, it's not new. Who cares, the thing starts and runs well so much of the time that understanding how it works doesn't benefit me in my daily life.