Why are computers still so difficult to use?
? Can you remember when you started using computers?
? My first computer was a Sinclair, not a Timex/Sinclair, just a Sinclair, though I have one of those too. (yes 'have', both are still in my possession) It had a membrane keyboard, to which I attached a real keyboard, the video was a TV, and the storage was an audio tape recorder. The video would go off when you pressed the enter key, it needed the memory to process.
? My first job using computers was at an office where the 'computer guy' needed help. I really believe that he hired me because the other applicants were too well versed, I was the least threat to his dominant role. We had an IBM System 23. That machine used eight inch single sided floppy diskettes for storage.
? There was also the timeshare terminal that used compuserve, I would love to find somewhere what my old compuserve e-mail address was, it was a bunch of numbers but I can't remember what they were.
-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with?
? I had very little problems learning to use computers but I started this process just prior to the PC so no one knew anything back then. I did have computer classes in college but again, that was pre PC, but I think knowing about logic gates helped understand the process.
-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?
? Making it work was the biggest challenge. Designing new types of what we called "Office Automation Systems" was, well I recall it being fun, if that was because it was a challenge so be it.
-- Do you have any challenges even now?
? The biggest two challenges now are:
? 1) Knowing what I know about computers and computer networks it is frustrating to use computers in an office environment when the equipment is very old (30G drives and 1G of ram!). When things don't work I cannot fix them due to restrictions on the system and IT is miles away and rarely gets here to fix things. Using applications that are poorly written falls into this category as well as is Help desk people that don't have a clue as to what they are doing. I actually had a guy tell me one day that I couldn't be having network issues as our (Ethernet) network was "only" at 85%. At that utilization I'm surprised it worked at all.
? 2) Watching all the new people that don't know a computer from a paperweight. There was a time when this was all new and people didn't know or understand computers, then we evolved to a time where almost everyone, it seemed, could put a PC together from a pile of parts. Now folks using computers are consumers. They don't know what's inside a computer and don't want to, they don't know the difference between a recordable CD and a read only CD. I had a guy call me from a store one day and ask "This pack of 100 DVDs says -R on it, does that mean I can record onto these?" My answer started out "Why would a store sell 100 blank DVDs that cannot be recorded on?"
-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies?
? In the early days we fashioned some foam rubber in the form of a bat, with it we used to beat on the monitor, that seemed to help. These days I bang the mouse on the desk and yell "Hello" at un-responsive computers.
-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now?
? Absolutely. At least for now. At the moment what we used to call "Office Automation" is pretty cut and dry. Aside from the "use Microsoft or not" argument there is not much to be said. Just take it off the shelf and plug it in. There is no more MacGyverism anymore, you don't have to jury rig stuff. The days of writing your own special procedure to kick off a backup late at night for example, are over.
-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices?
? Your asking the wrong guy that question. I have 7 computers in my office of which I use 5 every day, all day. At home I have a computer bolted to the ceiling under my kitchen with a laser Kbd and a monitor on the kitchen counter just above. If your wondering why I went to all that trouble, it's been there since before the advent of the "All In One" computer. There is another computer at home for personal use and the ever present smartphone.
-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?
? In the 80's I told a group I was speaking to that by the turn of the century the only device wired to the wall in your house would be your TV and that TV would not be the TV of the 80s. I was a few years off but that prediction has almost come true. Do I appreciate it? Yes, I appreciate the technology involved and the way it makes tasks easier and more efficient. Do I appreciate the other things that go along with it? No. Sexting, Cyber Bullying, online predators, Online ID Theft are all issues we never had to deal with (ID Theft has been around as long as we have attached a value to our IDs but Online ID theft is new). The good is good, but the bad is bad and Parents don't know how to deal with it because they have never had to deal with it themselves. (If you are in NH I can help by the way, see:www.BeNetSafe.Org - Its free) PARENTS: Talk to your kids about staying safe online.
Since I cannot post pictures I will describe 2 old comic strips
One is an old Doonesbury from before the break. It starts out "My friend wants to buy a computer" The sales person replies in geek speak, "I knew it" says Rev, "he doesn't speak English"
The other is a single panel, a bunch of people in an elevator talking, the computer people speaking in 1's and 0's the caption reads, "When with regular people computer people speak in code".
When someone asks me why computers are difficult to understand I reply "If we made them easy what would I do for a living?"
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