When I was a kid I had two passions: Lego and the Macintosh.
Lego was an instant bullet train to any world I could imagine. Space ships, robots, lunar colonies, pirate treasures, ancient castles, you name it. These were mine to explore. I could spend days at a time perfecting some imaginary construct made real through the magic of Lego bricks and the exertion of my crude abilities. I treasured the rarer pieces, protecting closely my little snap-on magnet linkages and battery-driven light bricks. Regardless of whatever turbulent nonsense might have been happening elsewhere in my little world, Legos were an inviolable source of joy.
Joy, you know, that feeling that lives somewhere between the pit of your stomach and the tip of your smile. That vague something that builds a simple, contented glow inside of you that’s like a thousand perfect, extra-gravy-save-me-some-pie thanksgiving dinners with none of the bloated aftermath. Maybe you just saw the most beautiful vista in all of the world. Maybe you just fell in love. Maybe you’re ten years old and you see exactly what you were hoping for under the Christmas tree. You know what I’m saying, right?
The Macintosh came a bit later. At age 7, I got my hands on a borrowed Macintosh SE. And the joy was there, too. It could do so many things. It could produce clean, perfect type that was huge! I made a lot of paper signs. It could store all of this information and then show it to me again later. It could show me pictures and organize them into this tidy scrapbook.
And sounds! It made all these noises. I was most enamored with the quacking duck.
It was this whole world inside there that I could barely understand. I knew only one thing for certain: I wanted more. So much more of it.
Eventually, through about three years of begging and cajoling, I convinced my mom to plunk down the tidy sum necessary to secure a Performa 6116CD for our exclusive home use. (The fact that I kept spending a lot of time at the home of a neighbor kid who had his own Mac and whom my mother intensely disliked probably sped things along, too.)
The 6116 was an even greater magnitude of joy. An 8x CD-ROM drive and a huge bundled library of multimedia content like encyclopedias and interactive atlases. Plus creativity applications and, wonder of wonders, Sim City 2000. I had so much fun exploring this new world. I spent an inordinate amount of time learning every piece of software I could get my hands on.
It was joy.
And then, I grew up. Like so many, I lost my capacity for the discovery of simple joy. It became the exception rather than the rule of life. Go to school, then go to work, do your job, go home, repeat.
Then I found programming. It occurred to me tonight, as I struggled, quite happily, to grasp how the hell it is block arguments in Ruby work, that I’d rediscovered a simple, consistent source of joy. Programming languages are infinite bins of Lego blocks, waiting to be assembled to my liking. Programming is a limitlessly fascinating Performa, waiting for me to learn and harness any language for any task I can imagine. There’s just so much to learn and enjoy in programming computers.
Even after a few years of it, programming makes me feel joyfully like a kid again.
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