In the opening chapter of my new book, Brown Dogs and Barbers (which explains how computers fundamentally work in a way anyone can understand it), I talk about part of my motivation for writing it. After pointing out that most people can quite easily understand many forms of technology (toasters, cars etc.), I contrast this with computers:
"For many of us, our relationship with computers is one of bemusement, frustration, and fascination, all experienced at arm's length. We sometimes even find ourselves as the servile member in the relationship, desperately reacting to the unfathomable whims of our computer trying to make it happy. This is not the best state of affairs to be in if we're going to be so reliant on them in our everyday lives. It doesn't have to be this way. If our relationship with computers is sullied by their mysteriousness, the answer is simple: learn more about them... To understand what's going on in that magic box beneath your desk, we'll look in this book at the science behind it."
I believe that by learning about the scientific principles behind computers, we put ourselves in a much stronger position: informed, confident, and empowered.
While perusing one of my favourite authors, Ben Goldacre, I found we share similar sentiments in this regard. In his excellent book Bad Science Ben explains how an ignorance of science can have negative impacts.
"Fifty years ago you could sketch out a full explanation of how an AM radio worked on the back of a napkin, using basic school-level knowledge of science... When your parents were young they could fix their own car, and understand the science behind most of the everyday technology they encountered, but this is no longer the case. Even a geek today would struggle to give an explanation of how his mobile phone works because technology has become more difficult to understand and explain, and everyday gadgets have taken on a 'black box; complexity that can feel sinister, as well as intellectually undermining."
Today's mobile phones are not phones - they're computers with an antenna attached to them. And it's not just phones; computers have crept into most modern technology, rendering them much harder to understand. This is not going to go away. If anything, it's going to intensify with some truly staggering applications of computers on the horizon (self-driving cars, anyone?).
By making sure people have a basic understanding of computing principles, we can dispel the ignorance, the suspicion and the frustration.
I offer my book as one place to start. Please help me crowdfund the publication process so I can make it available to everyone.