Last spring I had ordered two Raspberry Pi computers when they first came out. I was excited to get this little 5 inch by 3 inch box and amazed to think that the board and SD card I slid out of it were enough to be a computer.
It’s Christmas break, but I’m sitting in my basement with a monitor propped up on a couple of old textbooks and a brand new Raspberry Pi running beside me that I’m writing this post on.I’ve also got my Ipad and my Macbook Pro down here, but they are just serving as a resource when I get myself into trouble fooling around deep in the bowels of Linux.
I’m still excited about these machines and the potential that they have to teach us about computing. They reduce the “mystery” that lives inside the sleek aluminum case of my Macbook Pro to its basic components. I can see the board and all of its connections and plugins. I’ve learned about GPIO pins and how to hook this little machine to something else like an Arduino board in order to make it do something else. I’ve learned about different operating systems and found myself interested in command line prompts and Python coding. While I don’t have it all memorized like a true Linux geek does, I feel pretty confidently that I could use this little $40 machine to set up a server and a personal cloud space if I wanted to. I could hook it up to my 3D printers and run them wirelessly. I’ve learned to install software and write the code to hack a game of Minecraft so that my 13 year old is impressed by what I can do.
There are certainly a host of things I can’t do on this machine. Video and audio editing are basically out. Any type of 3D modelling or animation are not possible without choking the small amount of processing power the board has. But using this machine feels different. I know how it works. I can take it apart, write new code for it, get it back online and make it do things that I couldn’t do with my $2500 Macbook Pro. It’s like learning to build a garage or change the oil in your car. You feel like it’s something that you have a lot more control over because you know how it works. In comparison, my Apple products feel like opaque magic.
It’s slow and its clunky, but it’s a trade off that just might be worth it if we are able to break inside and learn how all of of this stuff works. There is a lot more to learn, but as far as I’m concerned, these machines have served their purpose. They’ve taught me to want to get inside, to take things apart, to wonder about their potential and to question many of the decisions that we make about information and about teaching and learning using technology. That’s quite an accomplishment for $40.