Type Book
Date 1984
Pages 127
Tags nonfiction, computing history, biography, 75 in 2017

Computer Kids

There's a suspicious similarity to each chapter. I presume that the author asked very similar–and dull–questions when interviewing each of the kids. For example, in several chapters the kids list out some of the computer peripherals they own. Why? I presume they were asked to do exactly that. It's not outside the realm of possibility that they would volunteer that spontaneously when asked to describe what kind of computers they use, but it's a bit too specific. As well, in several of the chapters the kids give an example of simple programming information, describing FOR-NEXT loops, for example, or DATA statements. That's a weird and boring thing to spend a few paragraphs on, repeatedly–exactly what question prompted those responses, I wonder?

The book was marginally interesting, but only just. I had hoped to see if I could trace any future computer-related accomplishments of the kids, perhaps write a little blog post about how things developed, but I think it'll be a bust. I may have traced one of them, another died shortly after the book was published, and the others aren't traceable. Not surprising, since at least a couple of them are just kids who knew how to use a word processor, as far as I can tell, and that was good enough for them to be 'computer kids' to George Sullivan.

Sullivan also did not, in my estimation, try terribly hard when looking for subjects: they are mostly from New York, so I guess that he perhaps called up some local schools and asked if there were any kids nearby he could write a book about. I think that's possibly the most interesting thing about the book: not that it gives some limited biography of a few computer-inclined kids, but that it gives a little picture of how kids in New York first became exposed to computers and learned to use them. Public school programming classes, computer summer camps, user groups, magazines, BBSes… that's the eighties!

The author also manages to get the names of famous authors wrong: he calls Poul Anderson "Paul Anderson" and refers to "Andre Norton" as "Andrea Norton". I can understand that if you'd never heard of them before (how?) you might get their names wrong at first, but wouldn't you double-check before publication?

It's not hard to understand why young people like computers so much. They have many qualities that make them popular.

  • They're rugged. About the only way you can harm one is with a hatchet.
  • They're patient.
  • They respond fast. You never get bored waiting. And they're able to produce a wide variety of responses, including moving color images or synthesized speech (when fitted with special attachments).
  • They don't criticize. They don't care what you look like or how you dress.
  • While they are potentially brilliant, they're also stupid. They can only do what they've been instructed to do. "You're always the boss," says one young user. "The computer is the one that does the work."

Elizabeth Scurria: I don't mind writing by hand. But I like the Bank Street Writer. It makes me feel as if I'm doing something more than my assignment, something more than writing.

Scott Sheridan: One thing I figured out by myself when writing programs is that you don't have to type in lines with REMs in them. REM lines are there to explain what the computer is doing. They're for the beginner. When you get experienced, you can read the symbols and tell what the computer is going to do. You don't need the REM. Once I began to get the idea of what the REM lines were for, I made up a program with nothing but REM in it, and typed it into the computer. When I pressed RUN, the computer didn't do anything. Then I knew you didn't need to type in REM.

Index entries

Term Location
Bank Street Writer 51–59
piracy 44–45
war dialing 47–48
Name Role
George Sullivan Author