Playing with Technology

Listening to a Latino USA podcast they talked how MySpace encouraged people to learn technology. If you wanted to customize your page, you had to learn HTML, CSS, and how the web worked a little to modify it. This encouraged some to further learn technology and even be able to turn it into a career.

To some degree this is how I started, but I was lucky enough to be even earlier. To get anything online, not only did I need to know HTML, but also needed to learn Unix, networking, and servers basically all the basic plumbing that is simply packaged now.

WordPress was a big step forward introducing people to technology and requiring you to learn to customize. WordPress simplified lots of bits and created clear instructions on what to do, a little like LEGO. You still had to do the assembly of installing, configuring servers, databases, modifying code, and learn how the web worked.

The WordPress Community is clear proof how many people learned about technology using WordPress. In 2016, there were 642 WordCamps across 68 cities in 65 countries on 6 continents.

Today, sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have none of those features or requirements to learn. Everything is packaged up and simple to use so there is no requirement to learn to improve, you just use and consume.

Even WordPress is getting easier to use, numerous companies provide hosted and configured WordPress installations all ready to use. Extending functionality using plugins and themes are just a couple of clicks now, you can easily build a site and customize now without ever having to see PHP.

None of this is necessarily bad, you want things to be easier to make progress and be able to reaching a wide audience. There's no real reason for everyone to have to make and build their servers from scratch.

However, by removing any requirement to learn to use or customize, you limit people's interest and curiosity. You also limit the potential in technology. Giving people with an interest and curiosity a little room to customize, explore, and play with technology can lead to new innovations.

This same pattern can be seen outside of technology. For example, my Dad is a decent carpenter, and fairly good handy man, he probably can fix anything around his house. Most of this was out of necessity, not any magic proclivity towards it. This is probably similar to most of his generation, things were expensive. If you wanted a table, it was 100x cheaper to buy wood and build it. There wasn't an IKEA. If something broke, you fixed it.

I myself can manage putting together IKEA furniture, and marginally handy around the house. If it gets any more complicated than hanging a light fixture, I'm either calling my Dad or hiring a Pro. The next generation can hire a professional to put together their IKEA furniture and all sorts of handy man services.

As society progresses, everything becomes more and more specialized, people know less and less about how things work around them. A balance is needed to keep things simple to use, but should include the ability to extend and learn.

Apps like Instagram or Snapchat could encourage programming by allowing users to create and share custom filters, instead of just their few engineers. Facebook once had the ability to build widgets and tools people could add to their profile, but has been simplified down to appease to advertisers. Like MySpace showed us, things can get pretty ugly when its open, but learning can be a little dirty. It's ok.