On a serious note…

NOTE:
This post is nine years old. Com­put­ers are prac­ti­cal­ly dis­pos­able now, and the prob­lems described reside large­ly in the past. I’ve rein­vent­ed myself com­plete­ly a few times since writ­ing it, and so has, appar­ent­ly, the kid I describe at the end.

Still, I like the post. It’s an inter­est­ing snap­shot, and I want to pre­serve it. So here goes:


I’ve said for some time that com­put­ers are the great lev­el­er. We no longer live in a soci­ety ruled by who­ev­er can lift the heav­i­est rock or catch a deer with their bare hands (though, admit­ted­ly, such a con­test would liv­en up our elec­tion process). Regard­less of race, gen­der, or any oth­er arbi­trary des­ig­na­tion, kids who grow up with com­put­ers have a huge advan­tage over kids who don’t.

At it’s most sim­ple: data entry jobs pay bet­ter than fast food.

But there is a deep­er lev­el, much clos­er to my heart. The com­put­er can extend artis­tic ability.

  • The sim­ple free­dom an “Undo” func­tion allows can’t be summed up in words. When you can save your progress and exper­i­ment with­out fear of destroy­ing your work, that opens up some possibilities.
  • The com­put­er off­sets it’s expense by elim­i­nat­ing many of your con­sum­able mate­r­i­al costs, allow­ing you to lay­er per­for­mance data, and automat­ing repet­i­tive tasks. Can­vas and paint are expen­sive. As is hir­ing a full orches­tra. Or a room full of in-between­ers to work on your animation.

The com­put­er offers a lev­el of flex­i­bil­i­ty nev­er before avail­able to all but the sea­soned pro. It opens sophis­ti­cat­ed art forms which would be pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive to enter by any oth­er means.

The prob­lem, of course, is that com­put­ers them­selves are pro­hib­i­tive­ly expensive.

I’m not talk­ing about soft­ware licens­ing, although that can cer­tain­ly run up a few dol­lars. No, kids have clever ways around that expense.

(you real­ly don’t want to know what your kids are up to. but I do rec­om­mend keep­ing a nice heavy mal­let next to your sys­tem in case the feds show up)

(Your com­put­er stores no infor­ma­tion in the mon­i­tor screen. Smash­ing that will only make the feds laugh at you and your kids shake their heads in disbelief.)

Most­ly, the cost is just main­te­nance. Call your local com­put­er store and ask them how much they’ll charge to send some­one out to your house to rein­stall some soft­ware. It’s ridiculous.

When your com­put­er dies, it takes a cer­tain amount of hope for the future with it. When some­one asks you to restore hope for the future, how much can you eth­i­cal­ly charge them? As a tech­ni­cian, I strug­gle with this issue.  Which is large­ly why I have no mon­ey. I put too much time into fix­ing peo­ple’s sys­tems, and then I fail to charge them what I’m sup­posed to because of my deeply pas­sion­ate belief that com­put­ers should just work.

I’m get­ting off top­ic, but what if we taught kids com­put­er repair as soon as they’re mature enough to han­dle a screw­driv­er? I mean, auto shop is offered as soon as you have access to a vehi­cle, and it’s uni­ver­sal­ly agreed that this is a good and respon­si­ble thing. But kids are depend­ing on com­put­ers with­out any equiv­i­lant lessons in maintenance.

If you think about it, there’s no rea­son why we could­n’t take that one step fur­ther, and have all of them MCSE cer­ti­fied by grad­u­a­tion. Sure, most peo­ple will nev­er need to admin­is­ter a cor­po­rate intranet, but is that any less use­ful than the cur­rent cur­ricu­lum? No, the prob­lem is our whole econ­o­my would col­lapse when the next gen­er­a­tion takes our jobs and makes us serve them at McDonalds.

I’m drift­ing fur­ther and fur­ther off sub­ject, but I think I’m on to some­thing here. I’d much rather cam­paign for edu­ca­tion than fight this uphill bat­tle one com­put­er at a time.

Any ideas how to go about this?

(I’m work­ing with a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions already, but am not yet con­vinced that any of them are par­tic­u­lar­ly effective)

ANYWAY… This whole thing was just an intro to my top­ic, which is that I found a poster child for the cause:

Meet John Char­p­en­tier.
John writes music on his com­put­er. Inno­v­a­tive stuff, blend­ing ele­ments of clas­si­cal and tech­no, and rival­ing the film scores of many action flicks. He writes his music using a free­ware pro­gram he down­loaded over the inter­net, on a long out­dat­ed fam­i­ly com­put­er. Regard­less whether you like the genre, it’s clear this is pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­ty. He’s 17 years old now. I believe he was 16 when his com­put­er died, tak­ing all of his unfin­ished pieces with it. He has­n’t writ­ten any­thing since.

You can check out his music here. Doing so trans­lates into ad dol­lars for him, which will in turn become new equip­ment. It’s sur­pris­ing that the world would let such poten­tial be lost for so long. Seems like some­one out there could com­mis­sion some orig­i­nal music in exchange for equip­ment. Prime endorse­ment oppor­tu­ni­ty, guys.


As stat­ed above, this post is nine years old. That mp3.com link does­n’t work, nor does the link to John’s per­son­al web­page. He’s giv­en up his “Isotropy” alias, and his old tracks are pret­ty much lost to time. He now pro­duces music as Sleep City Met­al­work­ers, and his lat­est blog entry tells of anoth­er com­put­er meltdown.

Some things change, some things nev­er do.

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