Archive for February 20, 2010

Program your Apple II! Why not program today?

Ian Bogost has been reading old Apple Computer ads (from back when they were Apple Computer), and noting how users were encouraged to actually program their Apple II computers.

Once you’ve unlocked the power of the desk-top computer, you’ll be using Apple in ways you never dreamed of. You don’t want to be limited by the availability of pre-programmed cartridges. You’ll want a computer, like Apple, that you can also program yourself. … The more you and your students learn about computers, the more your imagination will demand. So you’ll want a computer that can grow with you as your skills and experience grow.

via Ian Bogost – Pascal Spoken Here.

Where did that attitude go?  Is it because there are so many “pre-programmed cartridges” (there’s an App for that!) that there is little reason to program?  Or is it that programming is too hard? Or that knowing about the internals of a computer is now considered too esoteric or unimportant?

Ian and I have been exchanging email about this, and he reports that he is getting a lot of comments along the line: “I don’t have to know how my car works.  Why should I have to know how my computer works?

Ramesh Jain once gave me a good argument in response.  Marshall McLuhan said that all tools that humans made were extensions of human facilities.  A bicycle extends our legs, to let us move faster and further before tiring.  A car extends both our arms and our legs, because now we can carry more while we go faster and further.

A computer extends our mind.  While it’s certainly possible to use one’s mind without attempting to know oneself, it’s more powerful to be reflective, to consider how one’s mind works, and to identify one’s strengths and failings in thought.  We can use a computer without understanding it, but not as well, and not as effectively.  You can use it for typing and counting and talking without reflection, but if you want to use a computer for thinking, you are better off knowing something about how it works and about how to go beyond those “pre-packaged cartridges.”  When it comes to thinking, there’s no app for that.

February 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm 20 comments


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