by Donnie Jenkins
I've been so serious lately answering your emails and technical questions, I thought I would digress this month and discuss a subject near to my heart.
If you've ever watched children for any length of time, one fact jumps out at you-almost all children display a creative ability that most adults do not or will not. They think flexibly, they try new things by the dozen, they innovate. They build something up, tear it down, start over and build something else. Above all, they play. And in their play they explore new ideas, work out current problems, experiment with different combinations of objects.
When I bought my first computer in 1983, I bought it to play. It was a Commodore 64, a very sophisticated game machine and computer for the time. As I said in my first column, I took it home, plugged it up to my TV and watched the cursor blink, unable to do much with it. Over time I bought some games, learned to program in Basic and Pascal, and learned all I could. At that time the IBM PC ruled the roost for "serious" or business computer work, and the Commodore was considered a toy or hobby machine. And yet within six months I was creating music on this machine. I learned to touch type on this machine. I was productive on this machine. And I believe this was because I first learned to play on this machine. It was fun, entertaining, something I looked forward to. I didn't dread sitting down to compute, I couldn't wait to do it. I loved it. I bought six magazines a month to learn about this machine. It was a source of endless pleasure for me, because I could express my need to play and create.
Several years and many computers later, I used to use a very simple trick to get friends interested in computers. Since all Windows computers came with the game Solitaire at that time, I would get people to play Solitaire on my computer, which of course taught them how to use the mouse, change the screen, etc. They were learning while they were playing. /This worked because they were motivated to win the game, which required that they tolerate some frustration learning the basics of the computer. I always enjoyed seeing the expressions on their faces when they realized they could learn to use a computer, and that it could be fun. I loved sharing this with them. And I loved it when they realized that they had empowered themselves to discover a whole new universe by learning the skills they had just mastered. Many of these people now use computers in their businesses and homes and are very productive with them. But they learned how to do this because they wanted to play.
Today we have the Internet and the World Wide Web, the ultimate playground. It is useful to many of us because it's so much fun. I used to buy $30 worth of magazines a month to read about computers....now I just go online and save all that money I used to spend. For two hours every morning I read the latest on computers and other tech issues by going to zdnet.com, cnet.com, pcmag.com, etc. I learn and educate myself constantly by just having fun. I love my "work" studying computers because it's so enjoyable, as well as educational. And it is the Web, email, and online shopping and search that has finally brought computers from being a novelty or business-only appliance to a common household item. It is no longer unusual to walk into someone's living room and see a computer there or somewhere in the house. We almost expect it now. And the reason is that, finally, computers are fun for almost anyone who owns one. This is not to say that they don't frustrate us also, of course, but the fun we have with them will almost always make our trials worth all the trouble.
There is a joy and a freedom in being creative and playful that is unlike any other experience, that empowers and enables the person who has the experience. I once taught an elderly person, a relative, to read with a popular Phonics system. The first time he could read and pronounce a word, and recognize it as one he already knew and used, the first words out of his mouth were, "This is fun". I later taught this man to touch type on an old computer I gave him. He would never have dreamed he could use a computer or had a desire to do so if he had not first enjoyed the act of learning to read and then wanted to express himself by writing on the computer. He literally played his way to being a more competent and able person.
So next time you turn that beige beast called a computer on to do some work, remember to play a little sometimes, too. Become as that little child we spoke of who loves to learn and create. Play a game, write a journal, enjoy your life. Look at the computer not just as a useful tool, but as a sandbox with all sorts of interesting toys available online and elsewhere. And please play nice with the other kids.
Donnie Jenkins can be contacted at: