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Falling for Science

Falling for Science: Objects in Mind

edited and with an introduction by Sherry Turkle
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Falling for Science
    Book Description:

    edited and with an introduction by Sherry Turkle [as per Sherry]"This is a book about science, technology, and love," writes Sherry Turkle. In it, we learn how a love for science can start with a love for an object--a microscope, a modem, a mud pie, a pair of dice, a fishing rod. Objects fire imagination and set young people on a path to a career in science. In this collection, distinguished scientists, engineers, and designers as well as twenty-five years of MIT students describe how objects encountered in childhood became part of the fabric of their scientific selves. In two major essays that frame the collection, Turkle tells a story of inspiration and connection through objects that is often neglected in standard science education and in our preoccupation with the virtual. The senior scientists' essays trace the arc of a life: the gears of a toy car introduce the chain of cause and effect to artificial intelligence pioneer Seymour Papert; microscopes disclose the mystery of how things work to MIT President and neuroanatomist Susan Hockfield; architect Moshe Safdie describes how his boyhood fascination with steps, terraces, and the wax hexagons of beehives lead him to a life immersed in the complexities of design. The student essays tell stories that echo these narratives: plastic eggs in an Easter basket reveal the power of centripetal force; experiments with baking illuminate the geology of planets; LEGO bricks model worlds, carefully engineered and colonized. All of these voices--students and mentors--testify to the power of objects to awaken and inform young scientific minds. This is a truth that is simple, intuitive, and easily overlooked.Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She is the author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, MIT Press, 2005) and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet and the editor of Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (MIT Press, 2007).

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28523-0
    Subjects: Education, General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-1)
    Sherry Turkle
    (pp. 3-38)
    Sherry Turkle

    This is a book about science, technology, and love.

    An eight-year-old sits braiding the hair on the tail of her My Little Pony doll, completely absorbed in the job. The shining plasticized hair is long and resilient; she plays with it for hours.

    She starts by taking the tail and dividing it into three strands, which she braids together. Beginning again, she undoes that braid and divides the tail into nine strands. Then she braids groups of three until she has three plaits, which she braids together into one. Undoing this braid, the girl now begins with twenty-seven strands, braiding...

  5. PART I MIT Students and Their Objects (1979–2007): What Makes A Scientist?


      • MAPS
        (pp. 42-44)
        Steven Schwartz

        During most of my childhood, I had an intense relationship with maps. These were the street and highway maps that were given out for free at gas stations and now cost about two dollars. I got two or three maps each time we filled up the family car; I developed a sizeable collection within a short period.

        Each map was a module (with a common interface) in a finite system. With one map for each region in the tri-state area around New York (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), I had a well-defi ned technological system. The highways that linked...

      • PRISMS
        (pp. 45-46)
        Thomas P. Hermitt

        By the time I was thirteen, science was my first love. The physical laws and principles I learned from reading textbooks gave me a sense of satisfying order. Into this world came the prism, and it brought my books to life. I could see the solar spectrum splashed on my wall. I marveled at the simple beauty of nature. I had read biographies of Sir Isaac Newton; now I could see the spectra as he had seen them. Over three hundred years ago, Newton had written: “I procured me a triangular glass prism to try therewith the celebrated phenomenon of...

      • WALLS
        (pp. 47-48)
        Jennifer Beaudin

        As a child, my favorite pastime was to try to sneak by my mother while she cooked in the kitchen. I tiptoed and darted past her, ducked under the table, into the side room, slinking down low, moving fast. Each time my mother appeared oblivious to me. Then suddenly, she would grab me with a laugh. One day I decided on a more sophisticated approach. I would create a map of the house and a more complex strategy.

        I positioned myself in the hallway outside my room and began to sketch. Right away, I had to think about what I...

        (pp. 49-52)
        Andrew Sempere

        In my final year of high school, my Art 10 instructor arrived late to class, arms loaded with a dusty cardboard box. Dropping the box unceremoniously on our worktable, he held up a handful of black plastic shapes and encouraged us to dig through the box to find a matching set. Parts in hand, he passed around a roll of tape to bind them together. By the end of class, we each had what looked like the fake squirt-gun camera I could never fool anyone with when I was a kid. Our instructor gave us what seemed like surreal instructions:...


        (pp. 54-57)
        Stephen Intille

        The odd thing is that I didn’t and still don’t like the feeling of sand on my body. I’ve always found the grittiness uncomfortable, and I don’t like the prospect of sand lingering with me after I’ve left the beach. Today, with fair skin and a dislike for itchy sand, I rarely go to the beach. But even now, when surf-loving friends get me there, I can’t help but think how much fun it would be to escape from the “grown-ups” and find a plot of sand for a castle. A big one.

        I did not get to construct sand...

      • THE BODY
        (pp. 58-59)
        Joanna Berzowska

        Because my name was supposed to have been Jake, I felt some pressure to be a tomboy, to climb trees, and carry little transistors in the pockets of my overalls. This did not happen. I grew up uninterested in cars or electronics. When I built things, they were stories, not programmable toys. But I felt a vague discontent with my choices. I liked math and was exceptionally good at it, but it did not fascinate me. I saw the world of technical things and my chosen world as mutually exclusive. I sensed a rupture between the computational and the creative....

      • BUBBLES
        (pp. 60-62)
        Matthew Grenby

        I played with simple toys. At three I had a clear plastic bottle, half-filled with a solution of soapy water. I would shake the bottle and thousands of small bubbles would fill the small airspace in the container. Once agitated, any amount of continued shaking would have no effect, except to reshuffle the existing bubbles. And then, somehow, impossibly, the bottle would lighten. The fluid would disappear among the bubbles. If I wanted to play again, I had to wait until the bubbles turned back into fluid. I have no recollection of ever attempting to unscrew the bottle’s cap. In...

      • CLAY
        (pp. 63-65)
        Jonah Peretti

        The bell rings. For the next seven hours I will be trapped, alone in a room full of strange children who pass the time transfixed by incomprehensible symbols. I feel invisible and insignificant. I am in third grade but still can’t read.

        Finally, Saturday arrives, and a big bag of clay is always waiting for me. I grab a string and use it to cut myself a large cube of clay. Then I start building. My favorite technique is slab construction. I roll large flat slabs of clay and bend them to create three-dimensional structures that are almost as big...

      • MUD
        (pp. 66-68)
        Diane Willow

        I filled a cup with mud and turned it upside down. I remember that I had to balance the cup carefully. I felt glowing satisfaction when a cake held its shape and seeping anxiety when granular pieces of earth cascaded over the board as I raised the container. I refi ned my technique—cup to board—through repetition. I practiced techniques of mud packing, learning the difference between merely filling the container with mud and pressing the moist earth firmly in it, compressing the mud to completely occupy the cup’s interior. There was also the landing surface to consider where...


      • GUMBY
        (pp. 70-72)
        Lauren Seeley Aguirre

        Around the age of seven or eight I became fascinated by Gumby. Gumby was a viscoelastic children’s toy in an unnatural shade of green. Gumby stood about 8ʺ tall and resembled a person in that he had arms, legs, a torso, and a head. But there the similarity ended. Gumby looked as though a brick had fallen on him and flattened him out. He was uniformly ½ʺ thick from head to toe, and his limbs were crude, without benefit of joints, toes, or fingers. For hands and feet, Gumby’s limbs merely became slightly wider at the ends.

        Gumby’s head was...

        (pp. 73-75)
        Michael Murtaugh

        I got the oven when I was only four years old, after explicitly requesting it on my Christmas wish list. Oh, I really did love that oven, its orange plastic exterior built small enough for a child to carry. The device itself was very simple: a cubical baking chamber supported by narrow black plastic legs, with flat slots extending out from each side, allowing the tiny plate-like metal pans to be pushed in on the left and pulled out on the right when the little cakes were done. The oven came with two or three of the little pans and...

        (pp. 76-79)
        Emmanuel Marcovitch

        I remember a huge room with an overwhelming table and big chairs. It was my kitchen in 1977, and I am four. On the blue wall, near the entrance door, I see the big clock, the clock on which I learned to tell time. In addition to this clock, there is a smaller digital one on the buffet—the kind of clock you receive for free when you subscribe to magazines.

        I remember that it was not easy for me to tell time on “classical” clocks, the ones with hands. For instance, when the small hand is on two and...

        (pp. 80-81)
        Christine Alvarado

        Despite my aversion to playing with dolls—why should I waste time pretending when there are things in the real world to build and explore?—when I was about eight, I was given one doll that fascinated me. At that time, small toy horses in bright colors, called My Little Ponies, were popular among girls. I had several small plastic Ponies that I used to play make-believe with my friends. But I had one larger, plush My Little Pony, a bright-green stuffed horse with a vivid pink mane and tail that I played with all by myself. I would sit...

      • FLY ROD
        (pp. 82-83)
        Cameron Marlow

        When I was a young boy, my father introduced me to the sport of fly-fishing. The fly rod is slender, long, and fragile, and demands a more elegant style of use then the standard spinning rod. When I began, I was four feet tall with a nine-foot pole and had little experience with refined motion. Needless to say, I found fly-fishing a daunting task.

        The object of fly-casting is to imitate the motion of a fly suspended on or just beneath the surface of the water. The lure, or “fly,” is small and lightweight, constructed from buoyant materials. To enable...

      • WOOD STOVE
        (pp. 84-87)
        James Patten

        My childhood home was heated by a wood-burning stove. Every winter evening we would gather in the living room and start a fire for the night. The stove fascinated me. While I huddled next to it to keep warm, I also tried to figure out how to use it and what made it work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning about the transmission of energy and its conversion from state to state.

        After the fire was burning it took a while for the outside of the stove to become too hot to touch. Once the...

      • SHIRTS
        (pp. 88-91)
        Daniel Kornhauser

        I lived in Mexico until I was six years old, then moved to France because my father had to work there. I still remember how I took the news at six. I was very happy we were leaving for France, convinced that I wouldn’t have to go to school because I was certain that I couldn’t learn a second language. I underestimated my abilities. Once in France, I was sent to school right away and learned French on the spot. It was a painful process. For those first months I was very lonely because I couldn’t communicate with my schoolmates....

        (pp. 92-95)
        Mara E. Vatz

        Three summers ago I was scavenging the curbside trash in my college town, looking to furnish my first apartment. To my surprise, I came across an engineering marvel—wedged in between a rusted mattress frame and a dreary, beat up couch. I thought at first that it was just a table, but as I pulled it from the pile of rubbish, its top slid open, revealing an unfamiliar mechanical contraption. At that moment, its owner came out of her front door to deposit more trash in the pile. “Go ahead,” she said, “You can have that.” I glanced again at...

        (pp. 96-100)
        Selby Cull

        I baked my way into science. Baking comes naturally to me. My mother started me as a toddler, rolling out her recipe for “1-2-3 Cookie Dough.” In fourth grade, every student had to build a model of a California Mission. Most used Styrofoam or cardboard. I used gingerbread. I baked every wall, doorway, and belfry in that mission, and decorated the garden with shrubs made of Rice Krispies Treats.

        By the time I reached eighth grade, I had baked just about one of everything. My mother’sJoy of Cookingexhausted, I dug up my grandmother’s oldBetter Homes & Gardens...


      • CORDS
        (pp. 102-104)
        Walter Novash

        From the age of six until I went away to college, two cords hung down next to my bed. They were not designed to be entertaining—they opened and closed the curtains on a nearby window—and yet I spent far more time playing with them than with all of my other toys combined. The cords themselves were thick and gold. Tied to the end of each was a cone-shaped metal weight covered in gold plastic. As I lay in bed, the weights came down to just above eye level.

        I woke up next to them every day and never...

      • DICE
        (pp. 105-107)
        Jonah Benton

        When I was little, I enjoyed solitary play; sometimes I even pretended to be sick to avoid going to another kid’s house. Playing alone was relaxing. No one was watching me; I didn’t have to talk; there were no unfair rules or uncomfortable situations. And I could be the boss. Alone, I made up games, usually based on the professional sport of the season. Some of these involved inventing an athlete and “playing” through his career by rolling dice or flipping cards.

        For example, to simulate a running back’s statistics in the National Football League (number of runs, total yards)...

      • EGG BASKET
        (pp. 108-110)
        Erica Carmel

        I was five years old and it was probably April, because I had an Easter basket full of brightly colored plastic eggs. The basket had a long handle so I was able to swing it around in circles. One wall of my playroom was lined with bookshelves that had drawers as well as shelves. They held my doll and toy collection, most of which I never looked at. At the end of the playroom, across from the shelves, was a set of double doors. When I made inventions, I usually included these doors in my designs, probably because their doorknobs...

      • KEYS
        (pp. 111-113)
        Eric Choi

        When I was five, I often complained of boredom to my mother. Toys for five-year-olds did not interest me. I would play with a toy for one day and put it aside. My mother, exasperated, declared an end to the toys, and gave me a large key ring to play with. No buttons to push, no levers to squeeze, not even a light to light up. Just a ring with keys. I threw it under the bed.

        After a few days, it became clear that my mother was serious. There would be no new toys and my old toys bored...

        (pp. 114-117)
        Janet Licini Connors

        The refrigerator box seemed large because I was very little at the time.

        We lived two blocks away from a big department store, and my brother and sister and I used to drive down to the back of the store with my father and take the empty cardboard boxes they had tossed in a pile. The three of us did not care whether the box had once held a stove, a dishwasher, or a refrigerator. We could play with any size. Getting it home from the store to our yard was just the first thrill. Being the one who got...

      • MUSIC BOX
        (pp. 118-119)
        Gil Weinberg

        It was a plastic white box with a poor-quality speaker and four colored buttons. Pressing on a button caused the speaker to play a short melody, a different melody for each button. I loved this toy and thought it was best played by hitting the buttons in rapid succession. This would stop whatever melody was playing after only a few notes and cause the box to jump to another melody, which would then stop after a few notes, and so on. The way I played with the white box, a melody rarely had a chance to be played from start...

      • MARBLES
        (pp. 120-122)
        Kwan Hong Lee

        While I was in kindergarten, my elder relatives introduced me to marbles. Each marble was different but could be categorized by size and color. There were regular, medium, and large marbles. The marbles were transparent, white, dark blue, and black. The most common marbles were the transparent ones; the colored marbles were rare and more expensive. This made them, in my mind, more precious and valuable.

        The simplest game was “odds or evens.” Two players would play against each other, taking turns in guessing whether there were odd or even numbers of marbles hidden under the other’s hand. One player...

      • JACKS
        (pp. 123-125)
        Robbin Chapman

        When I was four, most of the older kids I knew played with jacks. They were Serious Jacks Players. High social status and privilege was bestowed on Jacks Masters. An unspoken hierarchy governed levels of participation. Being so young, I was relegated to watching the action, which was fine for me because I enjoyed finding random patterns formed by throwing jacks. Often, when the game was over, I would find extra jacks and use them to make buildings, pyramids, and statues. I was especially glad both boys and girls played Jacks. I hated being told I should or shouldn’t play...

        (pp. 126-130)
        Douglas Kiang

        When I was six, one of my father’s friends repaid a debt by giving our family a shopworn Japanese pachinko machine. I had never seen a pachinko machine before. It was enormous and seemed to stretch to the ceiling. It had a richly ornamented, battered wooden case and a bright plastic bumper. Its face was glass, like a grandfather clock, and inside the glass I could see row upon row of tiny brass pins, irregularly spaced, and shiny little tunnels and levers mounted vertically on a board. At the bottom of the machine was a long horizontal tray. My father...


      • BIKES
        (pp. 132-133)
        Chuck Esserman

        I don’t ride my bike. Nor does it remain hidden in my basement. Nor do I wish to sell my bike. I adjust it. I modify it. I upgrade my bicycle’s components. I get my bike “right.”

        Getting a bike right requires an appreciation for perfection. Each component must be the best and carefully integrated with interacting parts. The bike must be polished so that it says that it is fast and responsive—that it has style.

        The design of a bike lends itself to this purpose. It is simple. Many parts can be changed. The bicycle industry is always...

        (pp. 134-136)
        Kwatsi Alibaruho

        When I was three years old, I spent hours with an Erector Set my mother had given me for Christmas. I began by building familiar geometric shapes like squares and triangles. Soon, I moved to everyday objects like tables and chairs. As my creations grew more complex, I had to take the time to fully analyze the objects I was trying to replicate. Triangles and tables posed few problems; things like buildings and boats required more thought, effort, and analysis.

        At four, mother bought me LEGO blocks, and for several months they became an obsession. The blocks were wonderful because,...

      • STRAWS
        (pp. 137-141)
        Austina (Vainius) De Bonte

        I spent the summers of my youth at a Lithuanian summer camp in southern Vermont. We spent time playing sports, doing arts and crafts, swimming in the pond, and singing around the campfire; however, unlike typical summer camps, we spoke Lithuanian while doing all of these things. One of the purposes of the camp was to expose Lithuanian-American campers to Lithuanian culture, arts, dance, and song. One of these folk arts was the art of makingsiaudinukai(pronounced: shau-di-nukuy)—decorative straw Christmas tree ornaments.

        Siaudinukaiare three dimensional—traditionally made out of various lengths of hay or straw strung together...

      • LASERS
        (pp. 142-146)
        Timothy Bickmore

        I was an extremely shy child, which was somewhat unusual given my profession as a circus performer. At the time I was born my parents ran a circus school in San Jose, California. I was born in its front room. By the time I was three my parents were back on the road. Together, we toured with the circus, my mother doing a single trapeze act and my parents together doing Risley, a two-person style of acrobatics in which one person lies down and uses their feet to juggle the other. I made cameo appearances in the Risley act. I...

        (pp. 147-149)
        Justin Marble

        The favorite objects of my childhood fell into two classes: those I took apart (and destroyed in the process) and those with which I built. In the first class, the objects I took apart, there were old radios, television sets, record players, typewriters, electric motors, batteries, and clocks. I was given these objects when they were broken, and somehow, it never even occurred to me to try to fix them. I knew what functioning equipment looked like. I wanted to see what made these things work and I hoped to learn by seeing what they looked like inside. My goal...

        (pp. 150-152)
        Sandie Eltringham

        Ever since I can remember, it has been an unwritten family tradition for me to receive a set of LEGO s for Christmas. My sister also received LEGO s, but she tired of the traditional blocks in primary colors and instead collected space LEGOs. I didn’t understand their appeal because you could make only one object with each kit, with only minor possible variations. My box of all-purpose LEGOs had pieces of many colors; the space LEGO pieces were all gray and blue and made for specific purposes. My sister happily made her spaceships and moon vehicles and then would...

        (pp. 153-155)
        Alan Liu

        I began playing with blocks at four or five, but I got bored. I could build only so many castles or towers. But LEGOs opened my world. I had LEGO space sets, medieval sets, and advanced builder sets. The LEGO people I put in my world had distinct personalities, realistic jobs, and normal lives. The normal lives of my LEGO people demanded realism and performance from my constructions. I was in total control, and I learned the basics of design and construction.

        With practice, I could achieve realism with increasing complexity. I added doors, hallways, second and third floors, and...

      • LEGO LAWS
        (pp. 156-158)
        Andrew Chu

        I met my first LEGO set in Hong Kong when I was in third or fourth grade and living with my grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousins. The set came in a big box, and had three or four hundred pieces, maybe more. The pieces came in assorted colors, their shapes quite standard: 2 X 1, 2 X 2, 3 X 2 and 4 X 2. Most of them were rectangular bricks and had the same number of connectors on top and bottom. Some of the bricks had only one row of connectors on top, the other row replaced by a...

        (pp. 159-161)
        Scott Brave

        My love for model building started when I was about five years old. I did my building with Lego bricks and what excited me most was following the instructions. I loved watching how many small and simple steps resulted in a single beautiful and complicated piece. I found it thrilling that I could take the instructions—simple pieces of paper—and figure out what they were telling me to do. This feeling was similar to the one I got when my sister and I created treasure hunts for each other. We made clues that led around the house but always...

        (pp. 162-163)
        Dana Spiegel

        What did I spend most of my time doing as a child? I took some things apart and I put others things together. So, I would often take apart my GI Joe action figures, removing screws, mixing and matching appendages. Or I would take apart a partially functioning radio to see if I could figure out why it wasn’t working. But then, I would sit in front of the fireplace for hours, building large LEGO structures, trying to bring to life a model in my head. These structures were most often replicas of everyday objects. I remember struggling to build...

        (pp. 164-166)
        Joseph “Jofish” Kaye

        For eight years of my childhood, LEGOs were as much a part of my childhood as my dog Jake, climbable trees, and a great bunch of packing crates that my sister and I used to make rooms and endless passageways. But the LEGOs meant the most to me. And they are with me today, in how I think and work.

        LEGO was always my domain: my sister was never into it. My parents never played with my LEGOs with me. I didn’t want them to. They wouldn’t have understood.

        My best friend up the street, Matthew, had Play-mobil structures—which...


        (pp. 168-169)
        Todd Strauss

        So there they were, covering the walls in my bedroom from the time I was five or six until my thirteenth birthday. I do not remember who picked out the pattern, me or my parents. My father hung it.

        The pattern was rather plain: simple vertical columns of groups of soldiers, three to a group, on an off-white background (either the color was off-white originally or became that way from dirt and wear). The soldiers were from the Revolutionary era: American, British, French, and Hessian. The groups of three consisted of American, American and French, British, or British and Hessian...

        (pp. 170-172)
        Britt Nesheim

        My mailbox was red, blue, and white and stood about 15˝ tall, 6˝ wide, and 4˝ thick. At the top were six vertical slots that stood side by side. The tallest slot was 2˝ tall and ½˝ thick. The shortest was 1˝ tall and ¾˝ thick. The slot on the far left was the tallest and thinnest while the slot on the far right was the shortest and widest. It came with six colored disks that varied in diameter, thickness, and color. The tallest and thinnest was red; the yellow disk just a little shorter and wider, and the blue...

      • STOP SIGNS
        (pp. 173-174)
        Joseph Calzaretta

        By the age of two, I could recognize certain shapes as letters and identify them by name. Not long after I read the letters on the red sign at the end of my block: STOP. When I asked my parents about the sign, they told me it was a stop sign and that people had to stop for it. They pointed to a moving car and told me to watch the car’s actions. The car came to the sign, slowed to a halt, and then turned the corner. My parents had told the truth.

        I fell in love with the...

      • CARDS
        (pp. 175-178)
        Brian Tivol

        My parents bought a special deck of cards in Sweden. There were ninety-six cards in the deck. Exactly half of them had pictures of little wooden toys—boats, planes, and cars in red, yellow, green, or blue. In addition to these, there were one or two little wooden men in each picture, either outside or inside of a vehicle. Each of the cards depicted one of the forty-eight possible combinations.

        The other half of the deck was abstract. Each of its forty-eight cards was divided into four boxes. One box was a square, colored in either red, yellow, green or...


        (pp. 180-182)
        Fred Martin

        By three, I felt that I understood the Lincoln Logs world. It was finite. Things fit. The Lincoln Logs had a wonderful regularity; you could create a wall with a window by using shorter logs just as easily as you could build a solid wall. My blocks world expanded at seven, when I went to an experimental school and spent most of my time in a blocks room that had a huge collection of wooden building blocks. The basic unit of the set was a rectangular block about six inches long, but then, there were longer beams and diagonal pieces...

      • APPLE II
        (pp. 183-188)
        David (Duis) Story

        I was in seventh grade, almost twelve, when I first saw an Apple II computer. I immediately fell in love. Within a year, I saved and borrowed enough to buy my own. In short succession, I would lose my girlfriend, spend over a hundred dollars on a monthly phone bill, have my grades drop to Cs and then have them come back to As, and grow closer to my brother without his knowing it. And I began to think of the computer as an extension of myself.

        The thing that got me started was a game calledWizardry. It embodied...

      • ATARI 2600
        (pp. 189-192)
        Ji Yoo

        One of my aunts bought me an Atari 2600 Home Video Game Center for my ninth birthday. My parents, being parents, would have never bought me something that cost $150, with cartridges at $30 apiece. I hurried to the television set we had in our playroom, and quickly reading the instructions, set up the computer. For the first few days, my brother and I furiously cycled through the cartridges, playing game after game, not doing or caring about much else. It was like eating a few gallons of ice cream and not getting sick afterward. The more we played, the...

      • TRS-80
        (pp. 193-198)
        Chris Dodge

        By the time I was nine, I had read a computer book that included computer games written in the BASIC programming language. Playing these games was boring; what interested me was the relationship between the game and the representation of the game in a program. I tried to form connections between results in the game-playing space and the program code. There was clearly a cause and effect that was being outlined in this abstract language, although I could not understand it. I devoured my computer book, even though I didn’t have a computer or access to one. I was fascinated...

      • BASIC
        (pp. 199-202)
        Nelson Minar

        I first read the Applesoft BASIC manual when I was eight years old. Despite the fact that I had no access to a computer, I read it over and over. I imagined what I could do in BASIC . I learned that people could control the magic inside the box by writing programs, that people could create their own wide worlds within the computer.

        I began to scavenge time on computers, hanging out in computer stores, staying after school in the special computer room, going over to friends’ houses. I had a favorite program on the Apple II,Lemonade Stand....

      • ATARI 800
        (pp. 203-205)
        Steve Niemczyk

        In 1981, the Atari 800 became the first computer to enter the Niemczyk household. I remember the day my father brought it home. I was seven. The shiny, brownshelled object was placed on a humidifier and my father connected it to our nineteen-inch Panasonic TV. Like all other technological objects, it would be under my father’s watch and care. I stared in fascination, as my father inserted the first cartridge,Star Raiders.Our family already had the Atari 2600 game system. I felt familiar with what cartridges could do, but my dad said that this was arealcomputer, and...

      • APPLE II
        (pp. 206-207)
        Rachel Elkin Lebwohl

        I love computers. I use them to solve problems; my favorite jokes are about people who program them; I think and occasionally speak in programming languages; sometimes I even imagine that Iama computer. But when I recently caught sight of my first computer, my family’s old Apple II, lying on the floor of the garage next to a defunct toaster oven, my heart went cold. This was no old flame, no first love. Sure, that old Apple II brought back childhood memories of typing up reports with the Bank Street Writer, playing the occasional game ofCentipedeor...

      • MODEM
        (pp. 208-211)
        Anthony Townsend

        I was about eleven when I heard about modems and immediately was among the converted. However, it was going to take more than a few good days at the lemonade stand to save the $300 to $500 necessary to buy one of those beauties. Complicating the picture was that my computer, a Texas Instruments 99/4A was a discontinued model. There was no guarantee that a modem would become available to work with it.

        A few years later, my family moved from a New Jersey suburb of New York to a sandy shore a few hours south. After twenty years of...

      • TURBOGRAFX 16
        (pp. 212-216)
        Antoinne Machal-Cajigas

        For twenty-six years, my father worked as an electrical engineer for the US Army. Electronics were his passion. They filled our home. There were always things around the house that he had built. One of my first memories was of one such project, the first piece of electronics I ever fully grasped. This was a circuit that, when powered by a battery, asynchronously lit two light-emitting diodes (LEDs for short). The circuit was stamped out on white printed circuit board, PCB for short.

        When I held the white PCB and battery in my hand, I could make the LEDs flash...

  6. PART II Mentors and Their Objects: What Made a Scientist?

    • What We See: MICROSCOPE
      (pp. 220-226)
      Susan Hockfield

      How do you understand how something works? From as early as I can remember, I wanted to see inside things, to understand how they worked by understanding their internal structure. The organization and scale of things has always held a fascination for me. I picked up magnifying glasses all over the place so that I could see things at high resolution, close up. Throughout my life, I’ve magnified things and taken them apart. Even in elementary school, I remember fiddling with a door latch at my friend’s house, impervious to her pleas, “Please don’t do that; you always take everything...

    • What We Sense: PURPLE HAZE
      (pp. 228-234)
      Rosalind Picard

      As a kid I liked school, but science was a turnoff. In my first school, science meant the teacher read to us about boring topics while we tried to sit still and be quiet. I remember when I picked out my favorite color notebook, yellow, for the class, thinking it might help me like science more, and thus help me survive. My next memory of science was third grade, this time in a new school, armed with a bright new yellow notebook. I honestly can’t remember a thing about what we did that year except that I made a C,...

    • What We Model: STEPS
      (pp. 236-240)
      Moshe Safdie

      Everything about Haifa, the city of my birth, seemed to be about climbing steps. The city had originated on the shores of the Haifa-Acre Bay. Some years before my birth, the British built a modern port and the city began climbing the slopes of Mount Carmel. I was born in a Bauhaus-style apartment building abutting the Technion, the Institute of Technology, halfway up the mount. By the time I turned ten we were elevated, in more than one sense, and lived in a building up the hill. It was a three-story building; the ground floor apartments opened to gardens below...

    • What We Play: BLOCKS
      (pp. 242-246)
      Sarah Kuhn

      In the slew of brochures that wash in on the daily tide of the letter carrier’s arrival, there is a Frank Lloyd Wright catalog, where I find some gorgeous (and expensive) maple blocks. In dovetail maple boxes, the blocks are elegant reproductions of the Froebel gifts—learning materials designed for young children by German educator Friedrich Froebel, the creator of kindergarten. They are beautiful. I must have them.

      As a child, Frank Lloyd Wright had Froebel blocks, and when he was a mature professional, Wright remembered them, saying that they were “in my fingers to this day.” Wright also said...

    • What We Build: RADIO
      (pp. 248-250)
      Donald Norman

      How did my career begin? Ah, through a wonderful, wooden piece of furniture.

      It was a radio, perhaps two feet tall, one foot wide. In a wooden case, of course, and in my memory, it has a rounded top and a large round dial for tuning the AM band (FM didn’t really exist as a practical broadcast medium in those days). I remember a large circular opening at the top front of the radio for the speaker, covered with a grill cloth. But the real joy was inside, visible only through the rear. There within were arcades of circuitry illuminated,...

      (pp. 252-260)
      Donald Ingber

      When I was a child, the only way my mother could get me to the dentist was to bribe me with the promise of a Venus Paradise Pencil by Number Coloring Set. It consisted of a cardboard box filled with six colored pencils emblazoned with silver numbers, a red plastic pencil sharpener, and a sheaf of black-and-white drawings of sentimental scenes of American life, each numbered for easy coloring.

      The box itself was exciting. “Venus” was spelled out boldly; “Paradise” was written in a style reminiscent of a Disney film advertisement; “Coloring” was larger than the other words, in capital...

    • What We Program: VACUUMS
      (pp. 262-266)
      Alan Kay

      My fourth grade teacher, Miss Mary Quirk, was different from the others.¹ The other teachers wanted us to read One Book, the textbook that they used as the final authority for all opinions, the answer to all questions. The teachers got angry at questions that challenged the One Book. What I learned from those One Books was to avoid them and retreat to many books. The One Books taught me that if I wanted to learn something, I could do it myself.

      But Miss Quirk was different from the others. In her classroom, there was an old dining table toward...

    • Objects in Mind: GEARS
      (pp. 268-271)
      Seymour Papert

      Before I was two years old, I developed an intense involvement with automobiles.¹ The names of car parts made up a substantial portion of my vocabulary: I was particularly proud of knowing about the parts of the transmission system, the gearbox, and most especially the differential. It was, of course, many years later before I understood how gears work; but once I did, playing with gears became a favorite pastime. I loved rotating circular objects against one another in gear-like motions and, naturally, my first “erector set” project was a crude gear system.

      I became adept at turning wheels in...

    (pp. 273-283)
    Sherry Turkle

    We cannot know whether we stand before a child who will use objects as a path to science. And we cannot know to which objects a child will be drawn. The memoirs of this collection teach the importance of acknowledging and accommodating such uncertainties. A one-kind-fits-all curriculum is likely to take children away from the objects that compel them. Insisting on uniformity, we might miss a child who makes Cs and Ds in math and science but develops an abiding love for computers because of his connection with LEGOs. We could miss a child who doesn’t think of herself as...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 284-290)
  9. Bibliography and Suggested Readings
    (pp. 291-304)
  10. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 305-305)
  11. Index
    (pp. 306-318)