Mitch Resnick talking about Scratch, the programming language designed for children and young people wich has an astounding success: "Why Programming? It has become commonplace to refer to young people as “digital natives” due to their apparent fluency with digital technologies. Indeed, many young people are very comfortable sending text messages, playing online games, and browsing the Web. But does that really make them fluent with new technologies? Though they interact with digital media all the time, few are able to create their own games, animations, or simulations. It’s as if they can “read” but not “write.”"
The motivation behind 3D Alpha project is the same. We know instinctively that children use the computer, but for what? Sharing on social networks, watching videos, listening to music, playing digital games? As dazzling as the ability to use these services, often opaque to adults (despite the huge efforts of designers to simplify access) such use is only the basic level, that of consuming. Complex, innovative and stunning to previous generations who did not have universes of information at their fingertips, but only consuming.
The key step is to helping to create. Show how to take ownership of the computer to do whatever we want with it. Draw, recreate, simulate, plan, remix, find ways of personal lyrical expression or building projects that may cross the frontier between the digital and the real. Essentially, doing instead of looking. Create rather than consume. Act instead of having a passive relationship with digital media. The great virtue of the computer is its open nature, without predefined purpose, which enables everyone to make whit it what they wish. But if the stimulus is social consumption is very easy to be dazzled by the bright motions and colors of the digital mermaid and wasting our individual creativity skills.
Not that there's anything wrong per se with gaming or simply vegetate while listening to video playlists. But we can do more, create more, invent more. Why not do it? Schools, whose role in the information society is under permanent questioning, assumes importance as a way to ensure that a comprehensive slice of the population has access to technology and learn to use it as more than media consumption. Actually, today it goes far beyond schhol to institutions, free associations, communities of practice, individuals who freely share their knowledge. In our hyperconnected world the school is only one element of a broad range of knowledge sources, and perhaps due to its historic role one institution that is better prepared to help constructing of relevant knowledge.
The path taken by the 3D alpha project is 3D, simulation, the challenging puzzle of digitally recreating with vertex and surfaces the complex forms of reality. There are so many other ways, robotics, programming, DIY movements such as Make. What they have in common is the idea of appropriating technology, learning by doing and the rejection of the concept of computer as an object of consumption, with economic conglomerates dictating what users can and can not do with their machines, a trend that has increased with the increasing use of app stores and their private gardens, the progressive opacity in our relation to a digital that is increasingly a gilded cage where economic interests dictate what is permissible and acceptable, as Doctorow points out in its "coming war on general computing".
This reflection was inspired by the quoted paragraph, the article by Resnick et al "Scratch: Programming for all". Fascinating, the insight shown in the comparison "It’s as if they can “read” but not “write.”"