I want to be a Smalltalk kid

When I was a kid, I really wanted to pack up and move to California. I’m not sure why. Southern New Hampshire was, and still is, a very nice place to live. But California just seemed so much cooler. I had visions of learning to surf, of not wearing shoes to school, of wearing shorts more than two weeks out of the year. Now I know why growing up in California would have been really cool – I could have been a Smalltalk kid.

In reading Kay and Goldberg’s Personal Dynamic Media and some other writing of theirs: www.bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/…/SSL-77-2_Teaching_Smalltalk.pdf,

I am captivated by the thought of elementary and middle children programming, in the 1970’s no less. Not programming programming, I thought when I first read about this. In other words, not writing code.  But sure enough, that’s what these kids were doing.

Here’s where I have to make a few confessions. I don’t have many phobias, but the ones I harbor are potent:

1) snakes

2) these things:

trust me, growing up in the 70's was traumatic.

3. computers

I’ve not conquered any of these fears to my satisfaction, but thanks to Apple, I can get by in the digital age. I am a competent user of computers, as long as I can delude myself that they are sentient beings and I don’t actually have to do anything to make them work. In other words, as long as I don’t have to PROGRAM them.  The first computers I remember using when I was a kid were FRIGHTENING. Black screen, white pixelly font. Make one mistake and you were done. Error messages and no clue how to get back to the main screen. I resisted all encouragement to engage with computers in K – 12 and it wasn’t until I was in college and the first personal Macs were available that I used a computer.

After reading Kay and Goldberg, I think the phobia stems from the fact that I was never introduced to programming. And even now as a responsible adult, I am no more motivated to take a programming class than I am to take a herpetology class. It may be time to make that first step.

I realize that these days, we can do just about anything we want with computers without having to program them. I am grateful for that. However, after reading Kay and Goldberg, and their description of the depth of learning achieved by the Smalltalk kids, I think that some experience with programming could be very powerful for many. A reminder that we have the power to change what we see on the screen. That we have agency, as Shelli says.

After the New Media Seminar completes, there will definitely be a void in the “how have I challenged myself this week” category of my life. Maybe I will learn a new language, like C++ or Java. I can see the nightmares now.  Two doors in front of me and I am being chased by giant kewpie dolls. Behind one door awaits a pit of writhing snakes. Behind the other, a long winding road through the countryside and a super fast bike. Between them , an ancient computer that speaks only Fortran controlling both locks. blink, blink, blink


One Response to “I want to be a Smalltalk kid”

  • yanna says:

    Jill, oh my goodness, yes, these dolls! How did you even remember them? I laughed so hard when I saw your photo. A true nightmare from the past. These guys made it all the way to Greece too. Never owned one, and I can’t recall knowing anyone who did, but paradoxically, I remember them being everywhere. Like they had taken over the country. I am with you on programming. My lack of exposure to it is so complete that, sadly, I can’t even think of an application I would want to create. Once this class is over, maybe I’ll join you in a programming programming class!

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