10 PRINT "Hello World!"
I can’t remember if it was a birthday present or a present from Santa, or if it was from an Aunt or Uncle, but I can still remember the first time I used it and the mild awe I experienced when I got it working.
The present was an electronics starter kit; a little circuit board with LEDs, switches, a speaker and other bits and bobs on it, and lots of little wires and spring connectors so you could wire up circuits and I can still remember the fun it was to create something like that, something magic. Push a switch here, and an LED lights up over there. It came with a set of instructions for basic circuits, and from that you could configure your own. I’m pretty sure I tried to wire up my own burglar alarm for my bedroom door one time only to realise that to set it up I had to be inside the room… bit of a limitation that.
The kit itself probably wasn’t the catalyst for my interest in technology but it certainly poured fuel on the fire and from a young age, encouraged by a father who had an entire garage full of things to experiment with and who remains to this day a huge gadget fan, my curious mind was quickly drawn to a world of electronics and switches, the wonder of electricity and the burgeoning world of home electronics and computers.
All of this ultimately led me through high school and a Higher Physics qualification, then on to a (short lived) college course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering where, in a nice little twist, I even made an actual PCB (printed circuit board) although this one didn’t have little spring connectors. I also managed, as part of my coursework, to blow a chip entirely in half, with the top layer flying off in a puff of smoke. Ahhh those heady days.
It wasn’t for me though.
Alongside that early interest in electronics was a growing interest in computers, fuelled entirely by my Dad who used to bring home these wonderous machines from the school he taught in. An Acorn BBC Series Microcomputer was my first exposure to such a thing, before the BBC Master, and a few years later an early Apple Mac II which still holds fond memories. It was the beginning of the personal computer age and soon all my friends had Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Commodore C64s, and the Amstrad CPC with its built in tape deck.
Things were pretty BASIC back then (pun clearly intended) yet it was still quite a revelation when, after spending a couple of hours manually typing lines of code, you ran your own program and could see it on the screen.
I missed out on Computer Software courses at school by a year, or my life would no doubt have been very different, but that early love of technology has been a constant throughout my life.
If you had told a 10 year old me that one day I’d stand in my living room, and say a few words out loud to have some lights come on, and some music starting to play, I’d have presumed you’d stolen the idea from a Dan Dare comic.
Of course all that technology comes with a price, one we weren’t really thinking about in the early days. Both the cost of hardware, with the incessant push to upgrade devices regularly for the latest greatest features, and as the internet zips forward and gives us ever greater sight of the murkier parts of life are brought into view and that too comes at a cost.
With millions of inter-connected devices, the idea that shining a light on all the bad things in the hope they’ll go away hasn’t played out. Instead it’s simply helped those with similar world views come together in increasingly monstrous ways. But, of course, that isn’t the fault of technology. There have always been people with dark views of the world, there has always been hatred, it’s just that much easier for it to coalesce online than ever before.
The flip side, obviously, is that those people who believe in love, equality, and want to make the world a better place for everyone, can also come together online, thanks to the wonderful technology we have available to us. It’s no surprise that there is a rise on demonstrations around the world, with technology driving the organisation and planning.
It’s a long way since my first experiences with technology, learning how to write lines of basic code, and computers aside, the leaps and bounds that all forms of technology have taken in the past three decades is astounding, and looking forward one wonders just how far we will be able to take things.