The ZX Spectrum
was launched 30 years ago today. I was not even three, so I don't remember exactly, but we had one by 1983, and it was the best £125 that my parents have ever spent. This was a hefty amount of money to them at the time (by RPI it's £375 in today's money), but they saw that it was the future, and found it. I am profoundly grateful to them.
So, I was dabbling with programming from a very early age. Somewhere, perhaps, there is still a programme listing I wrote out in longhand with very wonky childlike letters testifying that I could programme before I could write. And there was a fair bit of playing games, too. Some of my earliest memories are related to the Spectrum. When we sent it away to get upgraded to 48KiB, and the shop lost it and we got a brand new one. Happily playing in the garden while counting in binary (ugh, can you believe I used to say zero-one-ten-eleven-hundred? I am cured of that now). Playing Atic Atac
, which has probably led to my life-long fear of mushrooms. Watching TV coverage of the 128 KiB and being upset that it wouldn't have a joystick. Being really upset when Amstrad bought out Sinclair. (I hated Alan Sugar 20 years before it was fashionable). Helping my father with his football orrery. Learning about machine code and trying to hand-assemble bits of code despite being 9.
I never did anything big on the Spectrum itself - we moved on to the SAM Coupé when I was 11 (that being an attempt to provide an upgrade path for the Spectrum), and my juvenilia is largely for that, in the native BASIC with the odd routine in Z80 assembler. Later we got a PC and I started writing VB and then when I started sixth form college Turbo Pascal. Maybe some of those things would have happened without the Spectrum. But such early exposure had a profound influence on me and how I think.
Can kids today get that experience and come to grok computers? I am a bit worried that this was only possible in a short window. The Raspberry Pi is all very good as a learning platform, but I think it was the excitement at the roll-out of computing, and the future possibilities, that was the real reason so many of us got so into it, rather than the kit itself. That can't be recreated artificially, can it?