Figure 1: The book SOIC & SOT – the Microchips by Jeffery C. Dunnihoo and illustrated by Simona M. Ceccarelli harnesses children’s natural form of engagement by anthropomorphizing technology. (Source: Sarah Harmet, Mouser Electronics)
If you don’t already have a digital assistant in your life, the chances are you soon will. We are growing accustomed to talking to technology as if it’s a real person. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) improves, it is likely that the line between what’s organic intelligence and what isn’t will become increasingly blurred in the future. We have anthropomorphized technology.
What’s interesting to me is that the practice of anthropomorphizing things stems from our childhood. Almost anything that is designed to appeal to a young age group has some level of anthropomorphism applied. As we grow older, we lose the need for this high-level of abstraction. However, it seems that as technology evolves our natural tendency is to revert to the familiar.
The new book called SOIC & SOT – the Microchips, written by an engineer named Jeffery C. Dunnihoo, illustrated by Simona M. Ceccarelli and endorsed/sponsored by Mouser, targets the two- to six-year-old age group and harnesses this natural form of engagement by anthropomorphizing technology. It builds on a proven technique to engage a young audience and shows that when done well, you can convey very complex concepts to very young minds.
Before we find out more about the book itself, it’s worth highlighting why I think it’s essential to remove barriers to learning about technology. The importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education is a massive subject right now. The conversation about the shortage of engineers is never far from our screens. Furthermore, there isn’t an industry or economy in the world that isn’t worried at some level about where the next generation of engineers is coming from.
Engaging with young minds early by introducing the concept of engineering in a way that makes sense to them could help build an interest in understanding why things work, and not just how to use them. Children of almost any age can interface with a mobile device using a touch-screen, it is perhaps the most intuitive way of engaging with technology ever conceived by the human mind. What we need to do to guarantee there will be engineers to develop the next touch-screen, is to make sure that the ease of using technology doesn’t obscure the joy of working with it.
Figure 2: Mouser Electronics donated several copies of SOIC and SOT – The Microchips to local Tarrant County schools and libraries. (Source: Sarah Harmet, Mouser Electronics)
That’s really what this book attempts to do. It focuses on two devices, one in an SOIC package and one in an SOT outline, and gives them personalities. Without giving away too much, the story starts with the two components sitting in a warehouse, longing to be able to talk to the other components around them. Their journey takes them from the packing case to the finished product, told through their own experiences of the production process, presented as if they were real live beings.
The book introduces concepts such as an assembly line, a solder reflow machine, final test and shipping in a non-threatening way. It ends with our friends finally being able to ‘talk’ to each other over the internet. In just a few pages, it tells the story of where electronic products come from, what’s involved with that process, and what’s under the hood. It provides children with inquiring minds some context to the technology they use every day, and that’s has to be a good thing.
Some may feel that parts of the story are a little scary, but really that’s ok. Children learn through experience, and the book shows how the unknown can be scary—even for adults—but that knowledge can remove fear. Anyone with an interest in technology will enjoy the book at some level, for children that will include seeing two lovable characters go on an adventure, for adults not involved with technology it will be educational in other ways.
The author already has plans to follow up SOIC & SOT - the Microchips with new stories that will explain other areas of technology, and for that we applaud him. It is never too early to learn about technology, or too late. Take a look at how the programming language Scratch introduces children as young as nine to the concept of software, but is also an excellent way for older students to get started with programming. This book proves there are many ways to present technology to a wide audience of almost any age, and the more often we do that, the better all our futures will be.
Erik is the Social and Multi-Media Manager at Mouser Electronics. When he’s not tweeting about what’s next in the world of engineering for @MouserElec or uploading videos to YouTube, he can typically be found nose-down in a good Sci-Fi book. You can see what he’s up to on Twitter: @ErikSmith80
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