Prior to the mass adoption of the personal computer, the co-founder of Apple – Steve Jobs, described his vision for the utility of a computer as being like a bicycle for the mind. Steve Jobs was a great storyteller, he found ways to connect the dots between this new technology that would eventually become commonplace with a mode of transport that many have very fond memories of.
I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.
And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds. ~ Steve Jobs
Throughout human history, humans have always sought ways to invent tools that would make the world a better place. All those years ago, Steve Jobs correctly saw that a computer would become the bicycle for the mind that helped the ‘rider’ solve a wide variety of problems and improve their overall efficiency. In modern times, there is probably no better tool that we have invented that the computer. However, we are only yet scratching the surface of the problem solving potential of this tool.
Learning to use the tool
When one thinks about their journey with the bicycle, it often starts at a very young age with training wheels and being quite shaky. As we learn about balance and continual motion along with steering/braking, our bike riding skills improve. At this point, mom and dad, say that it’s time to take the training wheels off. This is of course met with a bit of nervousness as we think about how the lack of training wheels may impact our ability to ride the bicycle without falling off.
Eventually, we take the lessons learned and incorporate them into the new normal – no training wheels. Along the way, there are some false starts. But, eventually, we learn how to ride the bicycle.
Similarly, we’ve found that the best way to teach kids about computers is to take them on a journey where they learn about the algorithm design and engineering logic behind how computers work. Through building games, robots and modifying popular games like Minecraft, students begin to internalize how computers work. From there, we push them towards increased independence (taking the training wheels off)/
From there, some of us start thinking about the places we can now go with bicycles. We imagine going to visit friends across town or picking up books from the libraries. I found that one of my favorite things to do was go exploring in the forest preserve behind my house. There were miles and miles of trails that one could get lost in for hours on end.
There are still others who want to learn how to do all sorts of tricks – wheelies and jumps off ramps. And even others realize that the bicycle is a great tool for exercise.
For all of these different uses, one had to first learn what a bicycle is and how to use it. Once the tool was discovered, the application was up to the user.
And, for some users (inventors), they have decided that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for bicycles. There are road bikes, mountain bikes, cruising bikes, and racing bikes.
In a similar manner, there are many different applications for computers once you learn how to utilize their increased efficiency. From building new hardware and software applications to improving efficiency in baseline tasks like word processing and numeric calculations, there are many opportunities for humans to utilize our bicycles for the mind. Because the computer increases our efficiency on the rudimentary tasks of word processing and calculations, we can think most creatively about how to solve the most difficult problems humanity is facing.