Nostalgic Words: BASIC

The programming language BASIC celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and Time has a nice piece about it by Harry McCracken.

I find the “everybody should learn to code” movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.

Although the “everybody needs to code” trope seems a little debatable to me, I’m with him on the wistful melancholy. BASIC was the first computer language I ever encountered. I was in 6th grade and my science teacher gave me the manual, which I played with. Using the real computer required getting access to a time-share machine, waiting to use a few moments of a massive device that is less powerful than my iPod watch. All my later computer camps and courses through high school taught BASIC, but when I got to college the computer science teachers scoffed at BASIC, as a poor tool. Maybe true, but it lives on.

That’s paper tape at left. You put your program on it (or on punch cards, remember those?) took them to the technician and prayed to God that the damn thing would compile.

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