No one enjoyed being called out of a fifth grade classroom, as visits to the guidance counselor or vice-principal usually involved a reprimand. The Talented and Gifted (TAG) program, however, was one interruption that I always looked forward to. On these special days, kids in TAG were brought from their usual classrooms and welcomed into the “learning center” for mental exploration beyond spelling tests and long division.
The first few weeks, Ms. Nichols taught us to count in alternate numeral systems. Base 10 was our standard, sure, but as a fifth grader, my mind boggled as I learned to count with the the binary system. Before long I began to count everything in front of me, like Froot Loops and loose-leaf papers in my Trapper Keeper.
Towards the end of the school year, Ms. Nichols, perhaps due to my penchant for the ones and zeros, ushered me out of class on Friday afternoons- this time alone. I didn’t care for the undue attention from my classmates, but I was secretly thrilled for the opportunity to head to the “computer room,” a converted janitor’s closet with a single “workstation.”
Each week, Ms. Nichols would boot up the Apple IIe and we entered the world of LOGO. The first thing I learned was how to turn on the machine. Sure, I had experiences with a Speak & Spell and later an Atari 2600, but I’d never had the chance to use an actual computer. After reaching around to the back of the keyboard, I’d flip the on/off switch and watch as a series of letters and digits flashed before my eyes and finally a blinking cursor awaited my first command.
After popping in the LOGO application diskette into the disk drive, we were soon on our way. LOGO allowed user sto move a turtle-shaped cursor around the monitor using a series of commands like “forward 100,” “right 90″ and “left 60.” This process of drawing was ridiculously inefficient- not unlike using an Etch-a-Sketch with a single hand- but for the very first time, my eyes were opened to basic coding concepts and creating geometric shape, with a turtle.
As these Friday afternoon excursions continued, my floppy filled up with squares, triangles, and parallelagrams. The more files I saved, the more I treasured my delicate backup disc. I kept it at home for safe-keeping, and to show-off to visiting friends. Being impressionable, I soon started peppering my vocabulary with words like “syntax” and “data” and “fractals,” while my friends started using words like “quarterback” and “girlfriend.”
Of course, I was no Steve Wozniak, but I did know that computers were made for smart people like myself, and that the untalented and ungifted wouldn’t have a need for these things. There was, after all, only enough space in the “computer room” for one.
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Jason Bitner is the the creator of Cassette From My Ex, and the co-creator of Found Magazine. Be sure to check out his photo book called LaPorte, Indiana and the upcoming LaPorte, Indiana feature documentary film due out in 2010.