What Technology Taught Us in 2013

snapchatTechnology in 2013 was about a faceless crypto-currency (Bitcoin), faces that disappear (Snapchat) and facing the music (Healthcare.gov). It was about the face of education being turned upside down by Codecademy, Coursera and the Khan Academy. It was the year of the kid engineer (The Hour of Code), of re-engineering our view of everyday life (Google Glass) and of engines powered by electricity (Tesla). Being an early adopter of technology was once the pastime of gadget hobbyists; now, entire generations are wondering which programming languages they should learn first.

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

If we had to choose an image that defined technology this year, it might be the friendly ghost logo of the Snapchat application. The young, fledgling company turned down a three-billion dollar offer from Facebook, despite Facebook’s successful acquisition of photo-sharing app Instagram for a third of that price, under a billion dollars, just a year earlier. Unlike the 400 million photos shared every day by its users, more than Facebook and Instagram combined, Snapchat’s ghostly profits have yet to appear.

The self-destructing photo messaging service belies the permanency and archival nature of social networks like Facebook and Twitter; it captures a moment in time that disappears once its intended viewer watches it. Do you remember the last time you held a physical photo, or made an analog photo album? Polaroid had it right when they introduced instantly produced, physical pictures that could last a lifetime; a faded photo used to maintain a deeper meaning, a cherished memory. Now we like our memories instantly disposable. What does that say about us as a culture?

The Hour of Code: Learning the ABCs of HTML/CSS, PHP and APIs

code“Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.” This was the key concept behind the Hour of Code, which took place from December 9 to December 15 during Computer Science Education Week 2013. The efforts of its host, Code.org, and supporters like Ashton Kutcher and Mark Zuckerberg created a user base of 15 million students in 170 countries within just 5 days; it took Facebook 3 years to get to that number. Notably, more girls participated in computer science in U.S. schools during Computer Science Education Week 2013 than in the last 70 years combined. On a slightly related note, 70% of Snapchat’s users are women; it would appear that a significant gender shift is taking place in both educational and recreational technology.

Being able to code is becoming as vital as a college degree once was; both are seen as essential to a successful career path. Not surprisingly, several comprehensive sites have emerged to bring coding education to the masses. Codecademy, founded in 2011 by a Columbia University dropout named Zach Sims, is a web-based programming tutorial designed to teach HTML/CSS, Javascript/jQuery, Python, Ruby, PHP, and APIs. Learning begins instantaneously on the home page, and students of every age at any level will find the experience both fun and addictively interactive.

Codecademy has offered a free “Code Year” in each of the last two years, enabling users to start fulfilling their New Year’s resolution to learn how to code right on January 1, with a new course available each week. Online education continues to gain interest; Coursera, in partnership with Stanford University and Yale University, offers free online classes from over 80 top universities and organizations covering a broad range of topics, as does the Khan Academy, which touts “free online education for anyone, anywhere” and reaches over 10 million students a month.

What did technology teach you this year? Let us know in the comments below!

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