“According to Ayah Bdeir, technology is the language of our time. The 33-year-old founder and CEO of littleBits likes to compare the engineers of today to the clergy of the Middle Ages, who controlled access to knowledge and power via their monopoly over the use and understanding of the written word. Today’s engineers have a special kind of social and technological influence, which derives from their understanding of the stuff that makes our everyday gadgets work. If our lives today depend on technology, then those who truly understand it have an outsized influence over the rest of us. In Bdeir’s view, littleBits—a range of Lego-like electronic circuits that can be used by virtually anyone to innovate their own gadgets—isn’t just a plaything, it’s an aid to achieving widespread tech literacy. You might even think of littleBits as a democratizing project.
“You see these kids growing up with laptops and smartphones, and by the time they’re toddlers, they already seem so tech savvy,” Bdeir notes. “But they don’t actually understand how the technology works. They’re great at navigating around a touchscreen, but if they only ever know that much, they’ll wind up relying on other people—these specialists who studied engineering in school—to decide what kind of technology they have access to.”
“I created littleBits,” Bdeir goes on, “because I think everyone—kids especially—should be able to create technology. If you can create the technology you want, you can create the future you want, too.”
Bdeir herself is one of the anointed: She studied engineering in her native Lebanon, before going on to do research at the MIT Media Lab, hallowed ground for inventing-the-future types. It was while Bdeir was at MIT that the idea for littleBits began to germinate. As an expert among experts, the vast divide between the tech-enabled and the tech-illiterate became distressingly apparent.” said wired.com
“Everyone throws around these words—‘programming,’ ‘the cloud,’ ‘wearables,’” she says. “But hardly anyone knows what they actually mean. They may know what that vocabulary refers to, but I wanted to get past that, and give people the tools to break down these concepts into their component parts.”
“When Bdeir speaks of “component parts,” she’s being literal: littleBits are color-coded, user-friendly circuits that can be combined in nigh on infinite ways to make devices that do just about anything. You can turn any household object into an Internet-connected smart device. You can build your own synthesizer or copy machine or satellite dish. Kids have been going bonkers with littleBits, much to Bdeir’s pleasure, inventing spy-bots and interactive Halloween costumes and gadgets to help them with that most dreaded of tasks: cleaning their rooms. For Bdeir, the satisfaction doesn’t just come from seeing what these kids create now, but contemplating what they’ll do in the future.
“My mission with littleBits is to equip a new generation of confident and creative problem-solvers,” she says. “Once kids are tech-literate, they’re prepared to take on any challenges that emerge. Rather than adapting to the technology that comes at them, they’ll adapt the technology to their own needs. It’s just a matter of changing their attitude.”
Bdeir goes on to say that she’s seen the change in kids’ attitude firsthand. LittleBits recently opened a pop-up shop in Manhattan, a laboratory space where people can come and play, and on the very first day it was up-and-running, a little boy came into the store with his father. He had made a special pilgrimage from Chicago, she says, and immediately got immersed in a project.” said wired.com
“He created a keypad—a kind of instrument,” she recalls. “And as he was leaving, he said to me, ‘All my friends are going to ask me where I got this.’ And, you know, I can’t even describe the look of pride on his face when he told me: ‘I’m going to say, I didn’t buy it! I made it!’ And that,” Bdeir adds, “is exactly the point.”