Screen Time - Quantity vs Quality

So much has been written about screen time and the amount of time our children spend online or are engaged with a device that it might seem churlish to be adding to that particular echo chamber at this time but one crucial factor has been missing from some of the most widely circulated studies and reports that the record needs to be set straight.

Tim Berners-Lee gave birth to the Internet in 1995, 25 years ago, meaning that every single person on the planet who could be called a young adult, teenager or child is 100% digitally native. So much has changed in a quarter of a century that it would be a gross miscarriage of justice to attempt to encapsulate it in a blog, an article, a book or even a set of encyclopaedias.

I recently turned 50 so had to live half of my life with nothing but books, radio and television to educate, entertain and enlighten me. And then at the age of 12 I saw a notice on the wall of my school which talked about some kind of computer club.

The school had recently purchased 4 Sinclair ZX-81s and the school chaplain had decided to start a club to teach programming. Well obviously I went along and can vividly remember sitting down at a desk with a small black box, no bigger than a tape recorder, plugged into a tiny television screen; no computer monitor, no mouse, no hard drive, no discs, no memory sticks - none of that.

In the early days you had to type every single line of code of your programme each an every time you went to the club as there was no way to save it other than writing it down in a notebook or as I did - memorise it. I developed an ability to do 2 things very quickly.

I should mention that in 1980 a computer came with 2Kb of memory - the Apple Mac Mini I use today has 16Gb of memory or 64,000,000 times as much. Yes, that's 64 million times more - and in terms of performance my 2011 Mac is pretty much at the bottom of the food chain today!

Back to the eighties, firstly I was able learn the syntax of the computer language very quickly and could instantly visualise how to implement a new command into my programme or store it away for later use if my current project didn't require it.

Secondly, and much more importantly, I taught myself a programmers version of touch typing. Normal touch typing had to be adapted to programming because of the amount of what we call today, special characters that were required to correctly programme the machine.

You couldn't type, "Think of a number between 1 and 10, multiply it by itself and show me the answer on the screen" as nothing would happen.

But ...

10 Let A = RAND(10)
20 Let B = A * A
30 Print A

Now we're in business! These were the first lines of code I'd written in my lifetime and it blew my mind. Within 7 years I had developed from 3 lines of code and a simply number squaring programming to writing a programme for my Computer Science A Level which consisted of almost 10,000 lines of code. I'd written a programme to transform the school library's method for lending books to students.

No longer did the librarian have to spend minutes finding the book's card, stamping the book with the inked date stamper, showing the date it needed to be returned by, then find the students card in the mass of alphabetically labelled drawers and insert the book's card in the folded card.