I like to think that I learned to code as a kid. Well, really I didn’t, but if you wanted your family’s Commodore 64 or Atari to do anything, you actually had to use some sort of commands and know basic programming language. This was back when Bill Gates was in his 30s, when Wham churned out holiday hits and we teased our hair until it defied gravity. I remember getting all giddy when I learned how to change the font color from fuchsia to lime green in Pascal – or was it Basic?
When the first Microsoft PCs started populating people’s living rooms, and a 20 mega byte processor was really fancy, you still had to know essential MS-DOS functions in case something went wrong. In our household, learning these commands was the equivalent to opening up the hood of the car to understand how it works before you were given the keys. We even learned it at school.
The year the oldest Millennials became teenagers, Microsoft launched Windows 95. And with Plug and Play, old grandpa DOS was put in a nursing home. It’s not that we never got a chance to visit him any longer. It’s just that he didn’t shout for you from his black and blue screens anymore. So we were no longer forced to discuss AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIGSYS with him and learn his old fogey and obsolete wisdom. Instead we were free to go surfing the vast oceans of Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves. With new graphic user interfaces (GUIs), regular users didn’t have to learn OS commands anymore. A great “de-geeking” was under way in the world of computer technology.
While we like think of ourselves getting ever more tech savvy, chances are that we are getting less so because our gadgets are so seamless that they demand very little from us. The very fact that an infant can operate an iPad is testimony to that trend.
But change is in the air. The new mantra in concerned families of the touch-screen generation is: “if you want to play it, you have to learn how to code it.” Much of this development is driven by the kids themselves. Children are being inspired by older siblings’ and parents’ hacker spaces and DYI projects. This is also why code clubs, coding camp and app kits for kids have mushroomed the last few years. 7-year old Zora Ball exemplifies a new trend of Homelander kids who make strides into app development before reaching their second decade. And she speaks Mandarin!
But the interest in coding for kids goes beyond prodigy kids in expensive private schools. Computer Clubhouses are located in 20 countries worldwide and was co-founded by MIT professor and TEDx speaker Mitch Resnick. They “work to “help young people from low-income communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies”. Some European countries are now teaching coding in public schools because they represent the new important languages children need to learn. And of course, childhood is a good time to learn language.
One of the most significant ways Homelanders might differ from older generations could possibly be in their true tech savvy, not only in using and generating content, but by choreographing the software of tomorrow.
Revenge of the nerds. We could actually see new social pecking orders emerging in tomorrow’s teenage hierarchies. The archetypical lonely nerd will get to enjoy his intellectual prowess as well as popularity in the school yard. Because in contrast to older generations of children, children today put an enormous emphasis on doing well in school. In surveys they answer that they’d rather be smart than popular. Professional athlete or celebrity are no longer the most revered aspirational goals among children. We should be aware of this trend because having a less than average aptitude could be particularly difficult when the future thrives in Gates’, Jobs’ and Wozniak’s garages.