Sunday, August 01, 2010

Black Box Antidote

UPDATE: How timely that there is a new Make video podcast on how to change a broken iPhone touch screen!

This week I taught a robotics workshop to several Bronx teachers. One of my themes for the workshop was providing their students with an alternate view of technology to the 'black box' model that's becoming more and more prevalent. That is, the idea that technology is given to us consumers ready to use and we shouldn't mess with it if it doesn't do what we want it to, Apple mobile devices being the prime example.

To make this point I showed two videos, the first being an SNL Weekend Update in which Steve Jobs talks about the virtues of the iPhone 3, then closes by admitting the battery only carries 20 minutes of charge (It's a spoof). Then I played a video detailing the steps to change your own iPhone battery. It amazes me that in order to maintain the pristine case you are forced to remove the motherboard to access the battery--the most user-replaceable part there is. It would be so easy to put a little door on the back to pop those failed batteries out, but that would ruin the look and feel of the device.

Not that I dislike Apple products or think people who have iPhones have made a poor choice. They are great for what they do. But I don't want people to think we have to be at the mercy of the company making the technology if it's not working properly or if we want it to do something it wasn't specifically designed to do. (I'm a big fan of MAKE magazine, too, for that reason.)

The best thing about teaching robotics is that it's all about inventing with technology. A robotics kit is simply a tool kit that only begins to do something when you have a purpose in mind and make the robot do it. It's a unique experience for most kids to have such control over technology and hopefully that feeling can extend to technology in general.

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