Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The impact of the internet.

I was just ruminating about how my life could have evolved differently, had the internet been available in it's present form when I was growing up. My son is just 10 months old, and the internet will have a huge impact on his development.

I'm struggling to remember how old I was when I wrote my first real computer programs. My earliest adventures in programming were on my father's TRS-80 Model IV. This was probably in 1983/84 which puts me at around 9 or 10 years old. It came with a very simple introduction to programming manual, and I picked it up and learned the basics of basic in a few days. The earliest programs I wrote were very simple, I think one of my favorites was a text based wrestling game, where you could be Ric Flair or something like that. My little brother really enjoyed playing it, watching wrestling was a favorite pastime.

When I was in my early teens, my father bought an 8086 PC. It came with MS-DOS (can't remember the version), and GW-BASIC. I kept writing silly things in basic. I used basic for a very long time, it was all I knew.

Eventually I heard about this language called C, I don't remember where or when I heard about it, but I thought it was such a cool name for a programming language. I remember going to a book store and looking at some books about C, but I didn't have access to a compiler or any other tools. The idea of programming without line numbers fascinated me. I wanted to learn more about this thing called a "compiler".

It wasn't until much later, when I was in college, that I was finally able to get my hands on all this cool stuff and start learning to write code without line numbers. First in pascal, and then later in C and C++.

Nowadays, almost anyone can download free compilers and developer tools from the internet, there are a plethora of great free tutorials online to teach you just about anything you want to know. Jumping back to when I was about 13 years old, if I had access to these resources in 1987, I can only imagine the impact it would have had on me. I could have potentially already been an experienced programmer by the time I entered college. Maybe I would have even written a game or two back when one person could do something interesting on the limited hardware of the day.

Of course, there's always the chance that instead of learning C at age 13, I would have discovered what many consider to be the true purpose of the internet, porn, and never written a line of code again!!!

I guess the point I'm trying to make, is that the internet has made the world smaller in many ways. My son is going to be exposed to a far more diverse set of ideas and information than I ever had access to when I was growing up. I want to help him leverage this vast resource as much as possible. I don't want him to ever feel like I did, wanting to learn more about a subject but having nowhere to turn. This is certainly an exciting time to be alive.

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