I Tech, Therefore I Am: The TI-994A, Enter Magazine, and Other Too-Forgotten Things

I was giddy. As a little boy, I had learned how to code on a Timex Sinclair we brought home from the library in 1980, and then learned actual programs on the Texas Instruments 994A. And here it was, 1983, and the TI was selling for $50, just in time for the holidays. Our family was going to get its very own computer!


I was already self-taught. Computers were a keeper of dreams, waiting to be explored. But I was an artist, too. If I wanted to learn how to paint on a computer, I was going to have to read books and magazines. I subscribed to "Enter Magazine," a short-lived glossy put out by the Children's Television Workshop. When I wasn't drawing pencil sketches of Bruce Springsteen and Hulk Hogan, I was reading up on If-Then statements and crafting my own precursor to Subway Surfers: "Rampaging Rhino."

Frankly, the delivery of tech education was miserable. The TI994A had no monitor--you attached it to the back of a television set. It had no floppy drive or hard drive; you attached a cassette tape recorder. You were not learning on your computer; you were learning offline, and transferring knowledge to the computer. Always looking over your shoulder to make sure you didn't screw up. But you did. Oh, what I could have learned from an articulate, funny, charismatic teacher!

I will finally take advantage of such an opportunity, more than 30 years later, to truly formally learn the inner workings of computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, and learning/cognitive science and informatics from an actual teacher hundreds of miles away. And I am as giddy as I was as I unwrapped that computer box so many years ago. Because I hope to fluently speak the language of the most technologically-advanced and innovative entrepreneurs I serve, I applied to participate in the revolutionary Masters program Georgia Tech announced with Udacity and AT&T in 2013 and launched in 2014. Built on the infrastructure of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) delivery format, this competitive Masters in Computer Science program attracts mainly full-time working students, and these students (including me) will only take 1-2 classes per semester. The most eyebrow-raising element of this program, though, is its pricetag: under $7000. Suddenly, the committed yet impoverished entrepreneur-of-the-future halfway across the world has access to a world-class education AND degree. President Barack Obama has praised this program as a nationwide model. But it is not merely a model for higher education. It is a model for business, art, and law.

This is not my first attempt to learn through alternative means of education. In the mid 90s, I participated in a fascinating early attempt to integrate the evolving online world with the classroom: UCLA Extension's Writing for Television and Film certificate program. Our instructors, accomplished screenwriters and television writers, sent each student a lecture to us on tape cassette and each week we would meet in an AOL chat room "classroom." It was crude, but instructive. Its strengths certainly didn't include building a community. A sense of human connection was practically non-existent.

Fast forward to today, when the price of quality online education continues to plummet, and communities and businesses thrive in an educational ecosystem. For a mere $2000, I signed up in March for Marie Forleo's unaccredited online business school, "B-School," a superbly produced global educational experience that I have no doubt has been a huge source of profit for celebrated (and self-taught) web personality Forleo, who shares so much of her experience and wisdom for free on her Marie.TV online channel. I have learned a tremendous amount about marketing, strategy, and business. However, what is truly remarkable is the online and offline community built around B-School. Technology--mobile phones, robust data bandwidth, and social networks--has made that possible in ways that the 80s and 90s just could not deliver. And our "Thank You Economy," as entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk refers to today's emphasis on giving before receiving in business relationships, rewards those who provide heaps of inexpensive useful information or instruction and build connections as a result of this generosity. 

Businesses, especially startups, are keenly aware of the importance of inexpensive education in building a client base. The online populace is hungry for information and instruction. PriceWaterhouse Coopers is hoping its free courses boost the financial literacy of more impoverished go-gettersYouTube's number one star is a woman who unboxes Disney items. Online art/photography/design education site Lynda.com was just bought by LinkedIn, making its 60-year old artist founder Lynda Weinman a billionaire. Education in concert with technology is good business.

U.S. law firms tend to lag technologically compared to other businesses. This is ironic, because key foundations of groundbreaking technological entrepreneurship--non-disclosure agreements, intellectual property applications, financing documents, case law, etc.--so often find their official start in a law firm office. Whether lawyers like it or not, technology is essential to the practice of law. Fourteen states (not yet including New York) have adopted an official ethics policy that demands attorneys be technologically competent. Lawyers can no longer afford to be technologically phobic or illiterate. But lawyers who embrace technological literacy and educational generosity are bound to thrive in ways only dreamed of in the 90s. I can read every New York State Bar Association Ethics opinion for free on a smartphone app. I can apprise myself of legal debates and matters in tech law each week I listen to Denise Howell's outstanding "This Week in Law," hosted by the equally outstanding Twit.tv network. I can learn how to develop legal podcasts from a great podcaster, Gordon Firemark, co-host of the exceptional Entertainment Law Update podcast. I can listen to unlimited CLE (continuing legal education) in the comfort of my car or at the gym, thanks to the mobile responsive Lawline site.

I have noted in the past that the new economy is turning artists into entrepreneurs, partly due to the rise of intermediated technology. What is equally worth noting is that technology is not only providing the opportunity for lawyers to learn a whole lot more for a whole lot less money, but it is also providing opportunities to better serve as businesspeople and educators. Or, put differently, this rapidly evolving world of technology keeps giving us new ways of building human relationships.