All life is if…then

After I blogged about If This Then That a week ago, Oliver read the post, signed up for an account, and created his first “recipe,” which was to tweet out the time every morning at 2:30 a.m.

I know this because I saw his first auto-tweet the next morning and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it had got there.

It’s a testament to the simplicity of, and to Oliver’s ingenuity, that he figured this all out on his own; last night we sat down together and worked out a few more recipes, like “if tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain, then send me an email” and “if I call this number, send me an email what the message I leave.”

On the way to school this morning we reflected on how so much of what we experience in the modern world is based on the same sort of “if this, then that” decision making… “if the light has just turned green and 10 seconds have passed, start counting down the pedestrian signal timer,” “if it’s 8:20 a.m. on a weekday, ring the school bell,” “if it’s the day after the day you had music, then you have gym,” and so on.

Indeed ultimately what I do for a living is string together interwoven series of “if… then” statements to make virtual things happen – computer programming is little more than layers upon layers of abstraction on top of this simple core.

So while is intended, I think, as a digital lifestyle plumbing tool, I think it also holds great potential as a tool that educates in the basics of digital logic: by making the triggers and actions real-world stuff that people actually care about (time, weather, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) rather than fictional abstractions (moving a turtle around a screen, converting temperature units and all the other “introduction to computer programming” tropes) programming logic immediately jumps to life as something with utility.

While it’s a stretch to say that “if it’s 2:30 a.m. then send a tweet” is Oliver’s first computer program, it’s not a big stretch; he’s got a visceral understanding of the atomic unit of digital logic now, and everything else is gravy.