Tie And Jeans

Audience complexity moves at log(tech) scale

This is pulled from my blog aimed at middle and high schoolers, so the tone is closer to my teacher voice.

I’m a huge advocate for what’s now going by the name "computational thinking." That’s not necessarily computer science, or computer programing, and it’s certainly not "how to fix computers," but something simpler and much broader. It’s a mindset that you can carry with you, that looks at the millions of *things* we encounter everyday that are build, augmented or made possible by computers, and can imagine what it took to make them. This is not to say you could pull a Professor and recreate all of these wonderful devices from coconuts and raw silicon, just that you have a basic understanding of how someone worked towards that solution.

You might not know how to make a cabinet, but you should recognize that it took wood, some measurement, careful cutting and joining, and a lot of patience.

This weekend I took Annika to the big Air and Space museum outside Dulles. She just ran around like crazy, while "ooohing" at the big planes. I was struck by how *fast* that technology moved. Look at what happened to planes between Kitty Hawk and WW2! What would the Wright Brothers make of a B-52 or a DC-10? But amidst all that, there’s the bicycle. If you showed Orville and Wilbur a modern carbon frame road bike, they could probably still tear it down to parts and rebuilt it again (if you have them the right set of wrenches!).

Then I think about computers, and it’s even more striking. In 1936, Alan Turing published his first public paper defining a Universal Turning Machine – basically, the first proof that you could build a computer that could do multiple tasks, depending of what code you wrote. At that time, computers were still built to do specific calculations or solve specific types of equations. I know that seems ludicrous to a generation that views the TI-Graphing calculators as primitive, but it’s true.

Although he didn’t live to see it built, this is a modern recreation of what Turing had in mind.

The guy who built this has an amazing site that gives more details of what’s going on in this project.

Then I hit this video, because I’m a game nerd and love Street Fighter.

Those two videos are literally from different centuries (and millennia, I guess). But my mind blowing moment was how similar the thinking required to *understand* the two projects. If you want to understand either one as an audience, to understand the basics of how or why it works, you need computational thinking. The tech moves super fast, and keeping up with the creative fringe requires you to move even faster. But an educated lay audience can keep up with basic literacy in what feels like log time.

It won’t help you build either a tape computer or a ninja simulator, but it’s what pushes you out into the amazing world we’ve created in the last 70 years.


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One thought on “Audience complexity moves at log(tech) scale

  1. It is pretty incredible. I wonder if middle school students can fully grasp just how “fast” technology has moved. I wonder if they have lived enough years to have that perspective and understanding yet. Thanks for reposting, nice to “hear” your teacher voice too.

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