We had a family get together this summer, with all the inherent organisational complexities. Someone was running fairly late, leaving us wondering if we would make the target time for proceedings to start. We needed to know when they would arrive, but we didn’t want to hassle them by phoning, if they were late they were likely busy helping get everyone together, or driving, or doing something important to make their way to us that we would only interrupt.
So I had a quick flick through my phone. Said person lives abroad and was visiting the UK. Their Viber account told me they were last online 5 minutes ago, they are always online on Viber and therefore must have it set to be permanently connected on their phone. It was a reasonable inference that that was when they last had WiFi, the journey they needed to make was 15 minutes. I told my Mum they would be with us in 10 minutes. They arrived on cue and to most people there I looked like a clairvoyant.
The whole thing was no big deal, but I only took the very first step because I think in these systems. When I open Viber on my phone and call someone I don’t think about it in terms of whether I can contact them or not, I think about it in terms of the connections between our devices, the affordances of the service I am using, and conceptually what is happening in terms of data transmission and reception to make that happen.
I am developing a course at the moment to equip Primary teachers to teach the new Computing curriculum in England. The first step, I think, is making people notice these connections, making them notice not just the end result but the computing infrastructure that supports it.
There are many complexities in teaching this new subject, but the first fundamental step is noticing.