Prod. Poke. Tinker.

There’s an interesting snippet of information doing the rounds on the Internet:

Today, your mobile phone has more computing power than NASA had at its disposal when it put Man on the Moon

I don’t know if this is factually correct, though I find it very easy to believe.

Of course it also required tens of thousands of talented engineers and scientists, as well as astronauts, without whom a moon landing could not have happened. Collectively, that NASA “team” shared an objective: and technology was simply an enabler.

Nevertheless it is thought provoking: we could have more computing power in our pockets than NASA did when it put Man on the Moon, and, by-and-large, we’d all be taking it for granted.

The mobile phone is just a part of it. I’ve been lucky enough to witness three other technical revolutions in my lifetime. The Television, the Personal Computer and the Internet.

Actually, I’m stretching it a bit with television as I’m not that old: but television was new and exciting when I was small: certainly not commonplace. As a child I had friends who wanted to be Movie stars.  Presumably, they saw an opportunity to contribute something.

Today, we mostly all just sit back and watch…

I remember getting a personal computer: a Commodore 64. I was about 9 years old and I spent many many hours trying to make that grey box with a keyboard do things. I remember running my first program: ’10 PRINT “I AM GREAT”; 20 GOTO 10;’ and I recall several other minor successes, each a building block prompting me to explore what else I could do with the machine.

Today, we mostly all just use the software we’re given…

In 1994 I could access the Internet for the first time.  I recall being absolutely fascinated by the notion of everybody in the world accessing and using the same applications: applications which could be built by people just like me, using nothing more than a text editor. The possibilities were limited only by imagination and effort.

But, today, we’re mostly all just surfing and shopping…

This “today” state is especially true for our children who are growing up with modern technologies, and not, as my generation did, witnessing their invention: and subsequent introduction.

For them – and sadly many of us too – technology is framed by what technology currently does: the television in the corner that shows their CITV channel and our “soaps”; the personal computer that plays their games and we do our work on; the Internet which is full of “stuff” full stop and; the mobile phone which sends their text messages, and ours, although in two very different languages.

It seems it is VERY easy to overlook “potential” in things when we are familiar with them. What we “have” is not something to marvel at: not something to be poked or prodded anymore. The next “thing” will be along shortly. Surely.

Personally, I think we need to address this. Certainly in our children.

I still poke and prod at things. My wife would call it “messing” but I think the official term is “tinkering”. I’m trying to encourage my kids to tinker with things too: the question I want them to ask themselves is, “Can I do ‘this‘ with the technology I have?”

It’s the same question the guys at NASA asked.

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