Playing with Constructionism – Part 1: Sinclair

Architectures of Control posted a while back on the subject of Sir Clive Sinclair, the British inventor behind the beloved ZX Spectrum, bemoaned C5 personal vehicle, and now the A-frame folding bike. Dan Lockton links to an interesting BBC interview in which Sir Sinclair talks about a prescient speech he gave back in 1984, the potential of online collaboration, and the highs and lows of being an inventor. It is interesting that Sir Sinclair defines himself clearly as ‘inventor’ after all he has been through in setting up Sinclair Research, a choice which I have discussed briefly before here. Planet Sinclair is a great resource on the man, more so than Sinclair Research’s own site.

Sir Clive Sinclair

I’ve also talked about my love for the Spectrum before, and its relevance to open sourcing in terms of the medium of audio tapes (World of Spectrum is a great resource for all your old spectrum games). Of course the other side of the coin is the Spectrum’s role in encouraging people to write their own programs and edit each other’s – as Lockton puts it “a fantastic constructionist success for a generation in Britain.”

from Wikipedia:

“Since it was cheap and simple to learn to use and program, the Spectrum was the starting point for many programmers and technophiles who remember it with nostalgia. The hardware limitations of the Spectrum imposed a special level of creativity on game designers, and for this reason, many Spectrum games are very creative and playable even by today’s standards. Games for ZX Spectrum are developed and released even nowadays.”

However it seems Sir Sinclair thinks that this tradition of tinkering is gone:

“When I was starting in business, and when I was a child, electronics was a huge hobby, and you could buy components on the street and make all sort of things, and people did. But that also has all passed; it’s almost forgotten.”

I find it hard to agree. The hacking/making community is strong online, as is the open source software community clearly. But as Lockton suggests, The activity is nowhere near as accessible as Sinclair Research made programming with the Spectrum – I can’t begin to imagine how to write myself a Windows program, yet as a child I would have got stuck right in!

[Part 1 of 3]

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