Here Come the Microkids

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computer consulting firm, introducing younger children to the machines. Last year his employers sent him to Chicago, where he displayed his special teaching gifts before a meeting of educators. As Lewis told TIME Correspondent Peter Stoler, "I love these machines. I've got all this power at my fingertips. Without computers, I don't know what I'd be. With them, I'm somebody."

Perhaps because of the faintly macho side of computers, the bug seems to strike many more boys than girls in the preadolescent years. Says Steve Siegelbaum, Lewis' teacher: "Maybe it's because boys are pushed more toward math and logic than girls are. Maybe it's because boys are just more aggressive."

Paradoxically, the computer passion is often stirred in youngsters who seem least likely to be interested in high tech. Jay Harstad, 12, of Minnetonka, Minn., Utters his house with poems and sketches but will do almost anything to avoid doing his math homework. Yet Jay is one of the Gatewood Elementary School's premier computerniks and regularly helps teachers introduce fourth-graders to the machines. At West High School in Wausau, Wis., Chris Schumann, 16, a junior, has made a name for himself by translating musical notes into digital form and getting a computer to play Bach and Vivaldi through its loudspeaker. Originally, Chris regarded computers as remote and forbidding, but that changed when he was introduced to his first micro. "It looked real friendly," he says. "It didn't overpower you. It wasn't this ominous thing but something you could get close to."

The closeness can be contagious. Explains Nick Newman, 15, Muller's chief disciple at Ridgewood: "The more you do on the machine, the more enjoyable it gets. It becomes habit forming." In Alpena, Mich., youngsters who had learned computer skills in junior high were devastated when they got to senior high school and found too few machines to go around. Says Alpena Elementary School Principal Burt Wright: "I've got high school kids begging to come in after school and use our machine." The truly addicted—known half scornfully, half admiringly as computer nerds—may drop out almost entirely from the everyday world. In Lexington, Mass., one legendary 16-year-old nerd got so deeply immersed in computers that he talked to no one, headed straight to his terminal after school and barely sat down for meals. The only way his father could get him away from the terminal was to go down to the cellar and throw the house's main power switch, cutting off all electricity.

Barry Porter, 14, of San Francisco, is a computer-age truant, so attached to the machine that he often skips school, rarely reads anything other than computer manuals and hangs out with his pals in a Market Street computer store, often plotting some new electronic scam. Barry (not his real name) currently boasts an illicit library of about 1,000 pirated (i.e., illegally copied) programs worth about $50,000 at retail prices, including such software gems as VisiCalc, the popular business management and planning program. Before security was tightened up, he regularly plugged his computer into such distant databanks as The Source (which provides news bulletins, stock prices, etc.) via telephone without paying a cent.

No one can say exactly when the computer

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