01 April 2011

"Thankfully, for most people, that's a pretty low bar."

In my opinion, one of the best April Fool's Day pranks this year was Think Geek's PLAYMOBIL™ Apple Store Playset. I don't what it says about me that I would probably buy one if it was actually an item for sale.

But the reason why I'm posting this here is because they also made a fake Apple announcement video for this product.  It's 2min 22sec long, but the money quote in this video comes around 1:29:
"Frankly, if something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical. Thankfully, for most people, that's a pretty low bar."
Matthew Chwat — Graphic Design Specialist
Now, this is funny in the video because they're being over-the-top elitist, but the quote also has a "It's funny because it's true" quality to it.

In particular, it reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke's 3rd law, something that I often quote when discussing how woefully inadequate our education system is at teaching students about the basics of how technology works:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Beyond simply teaching students how to program, we also need to be showing them how computers work at a basic level. I do this in my class by showing them how transistors work, how logic gates can be combined to add numbers, and I also have the students program and build simple electronics projects, often with a microcontroller like an Arduino.

I don't expect these students to become computer engineers, but I do want them to have a general understanding of what's going on inside the "magical" boxes that surround them. This is no different that what we do for other disciplines like Chemistry — we teach the Bohr model of the atom and the periodic table of the elements even though only a very small percentage of students will actually become chemists and need to know this information. We do this because we feel it's good for students to have a basic understanding of the world around us, even if they don't go on and pursue the subject in more depth.

Well, the same reasoning applies to computer technology as well. Especially as we're seeing more and more of it in our lives.

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