Teaching the next generation not to be passive consumers

Tristan Nitot


Apple 2 computer

I recently had to give a talk at a conference about digital natives, so I went for a walk down memory lane to remember what where my favorite computers back when I was a kid. At the time, the Apple II was the king of the hill, the absolute dream machine. Thanks to Woz, its creator, it was open in every possible way: a BASIC language interpreter enabled everyone to learn programming, a built-in disassembler enabled power users to understand how the operating system worked, the case was easy to open (no tools needed) and you had more extension slots than you needed to connect peripherals. You could even design your own extension cards, since the electronic schematics where shipping with the computer. In short, the Apple II was built to encourage tinkering and hacking.

Fast forward to 2012. Kids in developed countries are all digital natives, and Smartphones have outsold PCs.

Graph showing that smartphones outsell PC

In other words, kids are going to learn computing with smartphones and tablets. These are systems that are not open to tinkering at all. Users are left with very limited options:

  1. Download an App
  2. Use it
  3. Rinse, repeat

In short, we’re training kids to be passive consumers, to use their devices in “read-only” mode.

Of course, not everybody wants or needs to “hack” (e.g. tinker with) their devices. Most of use want something that just works, but I claim that in order to have a generation that is creative and takes control on its digital lives, our society needs systems that kids can tinker with.

This system is the Web. The Web is fantastic because it encourages participation, just like the Apple II did back in the days. It’s easy to understand, source code can be made visible with the “view source” command, and there is no need to pay a fee to participate nor beg approval from a gatekeeper (the App Store).

To support this approach, Mozilla is working on two initiatives:

  1. Webmaker.org, a set of tools and events that aim at helping the world increase their understanding of the Web and take greater control of their online lives.
  2. Firefox OS, a mobile operating systems that enables the Open Web as a platform for mobile devices.

We need your help! It’s easy and possible in many different ways.

Here are two links for you to help Mozilla on this important topic:

One response

  1. Eleftherios Kosmas wrote on ::

    Couldn’t agree with you more,reading your article reminded me of Cory Doctorow’s talk on “The coming war on general purpose computing” at 28C3 last year. It seems to me that Mozilla (and Firefox in particular) are much more than a browser, it’s about keeping the most common platform (the web) open. Although the web It’s not the only technology that must stay open is one of the most prominent.