Don Marti

Mon 21 Nov 2005 08:00:00 AM PST

Getting into computers

(edited 22 Mar 2006: fixed link to J. K. Rowling's FAQ, fixed Unicode quotation mark.)

Like every other free software freak on the planet, I'm optimistic about the MIT $100 laptop project. But why does it feel so fundamentally Right? Does anyone else get the sense that it's a quest to find long-lost kin who happen to come from circumstances that wouldn't otherwise put a computer in front of them? As if, if someone has the ability to do magic, and loves it, how could you deny that person an invitation?

Nat Torkington, in "How I Got into Computers", talks about the Commodore 64: "The beauty of the C64 (and the Apple // and every other micro that my generation grew up on) is that it's programmable as well as playable. Kids today don't have that, and I think we'll feel the lack of it."

There's a good interview, The Dynabook Revisited, with Alan Kay, one of the architects of the $100 laptop project. He says, "Now you've got millions and millions of people who think that doing even the most trivial things on a computer is a sign of computer literacy. This includes parents, teachers and the kids themselves. But most of what is done is about as worthwhile as playing an air guitar."

No more air guitar. The $100 laptop gets programming tools. This is a real guitar. Ethan Zuckerman hosts a discussion of 1LpC: "It's clear that the strategy behind the device is a trojan horse one - sell the device as an e-book, then see what students are able to do with a flexible, net-connected, programmable tool."