I showed the ‘About the Author’ page of this blog to high-school grads. They thought the equation 1+1=10 is a typo. If you also think it’s a typo, be advised it isn’t. And not knowing this is not your fault.
In simplest terms, it represents the idea of counting in 2’s, instead of counting in 10’s. When you count in 10’s, you use the digits 0-9. When you count in 2’s, you only use the digits 0 and 1. So the number 2 is represented by ’10’. The number 3 is represented by ’11’. The number 4 is ‘100’. And so on. Deep down inside, computers only know how to count in 2’s. 0= no electricity= power off. 1= there is electricity= power on. This is called a binary number system. This explains this T-shirt [10 types of people].
The entire world of math that we know is built on the decimal system (10), or on a system of 6,12,60 (seconds, minutes, hours, inches, feet, degrees in geometry). In addition, numbers can represent letters, so it is possible to represent the entire world with numbers.
That’s what computers do, only their world is built on 1’s and 0’s, and nothing more. It is a simple, but genius idea. To understand how everything is built on top of that you need to read a bit about the history of computers (check wikipedia), I won’t get into that here. In essence, that’s why The Matrix appears to Neo and Agent Smith as 1’s and 0’s, because they are the only ones who can see their world for what it really is – a computer simulation.
In every subject that has been deemed by the education system important to make you a rounded, wholly educated person, you learn the basics. In music classes students learn the notes. Music is usually an elective, but it’s hard to find kids who don’t know what the notes are. In literature classes they learn about the common types of writing like Haiku poems, novels, responses, etc. Numbers they know well before they start with math. In PE classes they learn to name the muscles. In social studies and history class they learn about ancient civilizations. In science they learn about electricity, TVs, light bulbs, and atoms. This is the way it is in the US, and in many other countries. Even when you learn to drive, they teach you about the engine components.
So, why in a society where computers are so prevailing, it is not important to learn about computers? Why should kids not know how they work? I think it is ok for 5 year olds to play games on a computer or an iPhone, without knowing how the magic was created. But it is not ok to graduate high school and college without a glimpse into the genius that created the most compelling tool in your life.
Science fiction writers have warned use about what will happen if we don’t keep track of the building blocks of the past. In Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series people forgot where Earth is. In Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop (or Starship) people forgot they are on a multi-generation starship, and they think their world is a jungle.
Isaac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”, is about a technician responsible for the maintenance of a ‘time elevator’, used by a small group of scientists. Many ‘floors’ are locked to prevent time paradoxes. The technician ventures out to the far future, and finds beautiful, perfect humans, but very few of them. Machines maintain the beautiful, empty cities, but they eventually stop and no one knows how they work and how they should be repaired. In fact, there are multiple stories about the far future describing deserted places with automation that breaks down, and no one knows how to repair it.
But sci-fi predictions in this case, are not a compelling reason to teach this in school. The compelling reason is what known educators around the world have been preaching for years. Creativity. That’s the reason. See this number 1 (of all time) Ted Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006):
You don’t necessarily get creative when you learn how to click File / Print to print your document, in a computers class in elementary school, where they teach you how to use MS Word. But there’s a chance you’ll get creative, when you understand how computer languages were invented, when you understand the brilliance of the change from ‘command line’ to ‘graphical user interface’, and when you understand the magic of the ‘mouse’, the Internet, and ‘wi-fi’.
Opening the mind to a new world – is why. Creativity – is why.
Comments received by Kidmat Eden via email:
“Very well written.
As a longtime engineering manager, I have often seen this in the real-world. People who claim they are Java experts or C# experts but don’t have a clue on how to read assembly, or even what assembly is, and how compilers actually work, have an inherent glass ceiling that they are completely unaware of. The truly great programmers really do understand how things work.
Sadly this is a dying art and it’s the ‘old timers’ who still have that capability. In the race to be ‘competitive’, even universities sometimes gloss over the fundamentals so that they can boast hip ‘Java’ classes. To me, if you truly understand how computers work, moving from Java to C# to C++ to whatever-is-next is relatively trivial (and I have proved this again and again), which is why I never hired ‘Java’ or ‘web’ or ‘C++’ people. I hired people who were very smart and understood very well how computers worked. The rest, as they say, is just programming.
Oh, and btw, you forgot the hex system. It’s probably used more than the binary system in ‘real-life’.”
Response from Kidmat Eden:
You are right, of course. Techie folks have a hole in their education, if they don’t know this. I wish this also for the benefit of the non-techie crowd, who should also know and appreciate how computers were invented, and how they work.
Btw… I didn’t forget about the hex system (counting by 8’s, instead of 10’s or 2’s), but in hex 1+1 still equals 2, and saying 1+1=10 is cooler…