Things I Have Learned from My Computer
by p a pearson (and Harvey)

One of the most feared expressions in modern times is "the computer is down".
~Norman Augstine

There was a time in modern history when broadcasting professionals in the field of radio proclaimed that television was a passing fad and not to be taken seriously. About 20 years after that, a person wasn't totally modern unless that old black-and-white set had been traded for a new color one. While it seems sadly true that television has finally gone the loop into these times when it truly can't be taken seriously, a great many people admit to watching their computer screens more than they watch their TV screens anyway.

On a personal level, I have been in and around a computer environment since the early 1980's. My first experience was when the company I worked for decided to convert from a manual system to a computer system. I remember at the time there was enormous controversy justifying the efficiently operating old ways of index cards and filing cabinets versus the impending computer system, which, by the way, took up an entire office to house. Shortly after that, I delved into family life, emerging a mere 10 years later to find the computer industry had grown so rapidly, the only things still recognizable were the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. As a result, I went back to school, graduating from Weber State University in 1998 with a minor in office technologies. Since then I have diligently become devoted to Internet technology, and often wonder how I ever managed to live without a computer on my kitchen table.

To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.
~Farmers Almanac

Now there are three things in the above paragraph which have led me to believe computer technology is not at all unlike Life itself.

1. The old ways are indeed sometimews better (certainly easier to understand), but giving the new ways a chance to prove themselves can work to the good of all.

2. Even though one may have experienced the new way (which includes being born into it), to continue the learning process is the only way knowledge can grow.

3. As soon as one masters one thing, everything changes.

Being a middle-of-the-road person in Life in general, from my same point of view within the computer industry I can easily see its polar opposites. The scale runs from those who deny the idea of technology (who actually do not have an email address, nor even want one), to those who have touched upon its realm of infinity and think they know everything there is to know. Personally (not unlike my views on Life), I find both extremes incredibly annoying.

4. Nobody knows everything, but knowing something is better than knowing nothing.

In the past 20 years, the computer industry has unquestionably touched upon every aspect of our lives, including our language. For example, the word “acronym” has evolved from a form of puzzle in the Sunday newspaper to a puzzling form of computer communication. That single aspect, more than likely, is a primary cause of confusion for those wanting to learn to use a computer. Not only must new students learn the basic computer acronyms, such as defining a CPU, its RAM, and all its adjoining DOC, TXT, PDF, WAV, MIDI, GIF, and JPG file types (naming only a few of thousands), they must eventually confront the interpersonal communication forms of BTW, BRB, LOL, ROTFLOL, JK, and – my personal favorite – IMO, just because I happen to personally have a lot of those.

5. There are no dumb questions, just some are easier to answer than others.

The real danger is no computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.
~Sidney J. Harris

As much as I once balked at the need for a home computer, I now feel my life incomplete without one. One interesting thing along the way I have noted uis we humans have an incurable tendency tio name things. My comptuer is named Harvey. Anyone who has seen the film of the same name, starring a very young James Stewart, will understand why. Harvey started as a very small system, meant only to replace my typewriter in producing text documents. As I evolved as a human in my computer knowledge, so too has Harvey been gutted and reformatted more times than I care to remember. I certainly understand Harvey is only a machine, only so good as its operator (that would be me) and its operating system (that I must maintain). Yet while I – as a human life form – am bound and surrounded by a myriad of emotions within myself and other humans, this machine named Harvey has taught me a great many things about Life in general.

6. It is a misconception that a human can sit in front of a computer for the first time, or open a new computer program, and instinctively know how to use it. Functioning successfully with a computer (just like Life) is something a human must learn through experience and sharing experiences with others.

7. There exists millions of hardware and software types in the cyberworld, accomodating almost every need and preference. While there is a tremendous difference between hardware and software, one can't fully function without understanding the other.

8. No two computers are the same, nor do they always speak the same language (even if they appear to be the same), but with a little patience, many things are possible.

9. If one is not very careful;, things could be lost forever in less than a second. Sometimes it isn't your fault.

10. One minute can be a very long time.

There have, in fact, been many times over these past few years when I honestly wished I could be less human, and be more like Harvey. Wouldn't it be grand if Life provided an Undo-button for all the errs we humans make? For cherished things, a Copy/Paste feature to use when times get tough? How wonderful our lives might be if we could network ourselves together – locally and globally – to share the best of our innermost selves in a realm of coexistence that could bring us all together in a positive way. What if we could install within ourselves an Anti-Virus program to automatically protect us from all evils? Add more memory whenever we like? To be able, in a matter of moments, to upgrade ourselves to be better functioning people? As much as I love Harvey, and as much as Harvey continually teaches me how little I really know, it all comes back to the first basic rule in computer technology: that a computer (like Life) is only as good as the human operating it.

I have always wished for a computer that would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish came true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.
~Bjarne Stronstrup


from STREET Magazine, Issue #6, Summer 2004


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