[vcf-midatlantic] OT: people don't understand computers anymore
dnotarnicola at gmail.com
Tue Jun 7 13:22:59 EDT 2016
Having grown up in the early 8-bit era and wanting to share the experience
with my children, this is something I think about often. I liken the
general lack of knowledge about the inner working of computers to the
general lack of knowledge of automobile internals. in the first half of the
century, it behooved you to have a very good working knowledge of your car
so that you could keep it running in any kind of good order. It was easier
then, as engines, suspensions and electrical systems were vastly simpler,
and anyone with a modicum of mechanical aptitude and desire could do most
routine maintenance and repairs. Todays vehicles are an order of magnitude
more complex with virtually unserviceable electronic systems controlling
virtually every aspect of the car. So in defense of users, they shouldn't
have to know the intimate details of the car if they just want to drive.
And much the same, users should not need to know the inner workings of
computers if they have tasks to complete. This is the goal that
programmers, user interface and human factors engineers have been striving
for years. Now we finally have it, at the cost of a loss of interest of
what's going on under the hood. The upside is computing power for everyone.
The downside is reliance on operating systems that increasingly obfuscate
the interface between the user and the hardware. It's just a shame that
many CS programs don't go further into teaching the fundamentals of
computer science and instead begin by concentrating directly on high-level
languages, data structures and algorithms; surely important, but it skips
the foundation that helps build deeper knowledge. My son Drew, who has been
exposed to the bare-metal technology, has expressed this frustration, which
I why I suggested he double major in EE.
My way of helping then, is to educate whenever I am inevitably called for
technical help or asked about my hobby. I try to explain in the most basic
terms, starting with the most fundamental concepts, and also communicate
the vital importance of preserving the history. Rather than being seen as
pedantic, it is often genuinely appreciated. The person now has had the
veil of mystery at least partially lifted and it makes them a bit more
patient when they encounter issues and gives them a sense of
empowerment over the machines they rely on so much (and has the side
benefit of reducing future calls!)
On Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 12:21 PM, Herb Johnson via vcf-midatlantic <
vcf-midatlantic at lists.vintagecomputerfederation.org> wrote:
> 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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