Computers are harder to use now but they do more.
-- Can you remember when you started using computers?
In 1985 on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K.
-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with?
Well, yeah... I was 6-years old at the time. The computer had no graphical user interface. With my father who knew a little bit of English, we were able to figure out how to load games from cassette tapes, how to navigate through the menus. There were no mouse, no windows, no hidden menus, just keystrokes. So overall, I had a relatively easy time working on the Spectrum (with no English, mind you). We later learned to use the built in BASIC interpreter, and I started writing simple programs, looking at code that was already there, looking at what these commands actually do when you run the code, and figuring out everything by trial and error. There is no way you could do that with the computers now.
-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?
Back then I couldn't figure out how to save a program I wrote on the BASIC interpreter to a cassette, and I still wonder about that even now!
I started using an Apple IIe next which was straight forwards. Then Windows 3.1 which was a lot more complicated but manageable. Later MacOS 7 which baffled me at the time due to its drastically different user interface and file formats. After internet, things became easier since you could learn from other people's experiences. Then came Windows 95, which was baffling as well, but I do recall having an easy time with it. Then in grad school came irix/aix/linux workstations and Windows ME. I probably lost a lot of hair due to the latter one. Then in 2002 I switched to MacOS X (10.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and finally 6) which also took some time getting used to due to changes in the user interface, but was probably the best experience I had after the Sinclair and Apple IIe. I also used XP for ~5 years at home, which was quite stable and and also familiar in its use due to the similarities its UI has with Win95/98. I remember I had a difficult time understanding networking, and setting up home networks was really difficult for me on the PC initially.
-- Do you have any challenges even now?
With networking came a boom in security threats and I still have difficulty explaining to my parents what they should and shouldn't do. There are always issues with getting programs to work right with the operating system, driver problems etc. but other than that things are easier now then how they used to be 10 years ago, (though more difficult then how they were 20 years ago).
-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies?
Google is a lifesaver!
-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now?
See two Qs up.
-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices?
-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?
Sometimes. Computers do a LOT more than what they used to do 20 years ago, which makes their design a challenge. You used to buy just a knife, but everything on the market now are swiss-army knives. So the ease of cutting things with them is drastically affected by this. Better thought and more consistent UIs are desperately needed. Computers also creep into places they need not do. My microwave used to have two dials: Power, Time. Now it has 35 buttons and an LCD display on it. It's performance is the same but it's much MUCH harder to use.