[vcf-midatlantic] OT: people don't understand computers anymore

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Jun 7 12:21:46 EDT 2016

As it's quiet on the maillist, I'll ask about something on the edges of 
vintage computing. People today - I use the phrase "in the 21st century" 
- don't seem to know anything about how computers work, anymore. I'd 
like a little feedback, not a huge discussion (and not a gripe session), 
about how common that ignorance is, what we as vintage computer owners 
should do - once I clarify what I mean, and provide an example.

It's a subject relevant to vintage computing, because that affects what 
we are obliged to tell people, to explain, when showing our vintage 
systems. It's also relevant, because one reason to preserve and operate 
these vintage systems, is to SHOW how these things worked, to preserve 
by example their fundamental nature and approach to computing (personal 
or otherwise). It's a preservation of a level of direct knowledge, which 
was necessary "then", but not necessary "now".

Evidence for "now": recently, someone contacted me as part of my 
vintage-Mac services, with a vague request. Something close to "I'm 
trying to read and edit a file from a 1994 Mac, in an obsolete file 
format from vintage publishing software. Can you help me open and 
reformat that file?"

It took three or so emails, to get the particulars, which are easy to 
describe either as hardware or software (IDE hard drive, 6300 model Mac, 
Aldus Pagemaker 6). At some point, some "technical service" told this 
person they could "read the file from the hard drive" - yet this person 
couldn't say if they HAD the file on "their PC". Or even clearly say 
they had a Windows PC or a Mac PC.

I had to keep asking questions to get these basics. Why? Because they 
are no longer active questions. "Everyone" uses Windows (a few use Macs, 
some use Linux, but context quickly establishes which). Those OS's do 
everything by magic now, little user intervention needed. Even the 
computer dealers (by my experience) don't know "how" they work, they 
just work. On hardware, "if it fits, it works". Many people don't know 
how to find a file through a file directory (desktop folders); the 
programs "know" where they are. These people get lost, even doing backups.

I think that's pretty fundamental.

Oh - Ted Nelson, at a VCF-E dinner, said to me he tried to teach a 
computer course at a community college. He said "I gave up in three 
weeks, because the students didn't know (bleep) about computers".

That's my experience today. I get this a lot. Again - I'm not looking 
for a discussion that rags on "today's computer users are idiots". 
That's not the point. the point is, what do we as vintage computer 
demonstrators do, when confronted with such people, who look at our systems?

Also: I appreciate I have a point of view, not shared by all vintage 
computer owners. Some may see their stuff, as say "neat gaming systems 
that we all enjoyed at a similar time in our lives" and simply want to 
operate them with others who share that same experience. Whether the 
game is downloaded from the Internet or from an original ROM cartridge 
is irrelevant. Or, maybe, played on an emulator. I'm aware of that point 
of view. If those with such interests, have parallel experience with 
"people today don't appreciate 1990's video games", that would be 
informative to me, in this discussion.

OK? These are real questions of real interest to me. How do we do, what 
we do with vintage computers, in this context? This is not a 
rag-on-morons gripe session. OK?

Herb Johnson
with a point of view

Herbert R. Johnson,  New Jersey USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net

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