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

Dean Notarnicola dnotarnicola at gmail.com
Tue Jun 7 16:30:27 EDT 2016

Chris, your example says it all perfectly. Mine was a very similar
experience. And I fear your conclusions are correct. You can't make people
learn, you can only present the information in a clear, relatable way and
hope it strikes the same chord in them that it struck in many of us. if
not, at the very least you exposed someone to fresh knowledge.​

On Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 4:13 PM, Chris Fala via vcf-midatlantic <
vcf-midatlantic at lists.vintagecomputerfederation.org> wrote:

> 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
> > retrotechnology.com
> >
> > --
> > Herbert R. Johnson,  New Jersey USA
> > http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
> >
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> Let me preface this by saying that a few years ago when I first heard about
> the “Maker Movement”, I struggled to define just what that meant. I thought
> to myself, I make things and fix things. What is the big deal? It turns out
> that it was really that simple. The fact is that when I was a kid, my
> father and uncles did everything themselves. It was unheard of to hire
> someone to do an electrical, plumbing, roofing, automotive, etc. repair. My
> mom knew shorthand (lost art), could type so well I am embarrassed, could
> cook anything like an expert chef, knew how to garden because the family
> were professional farmers (or course she could drive the tractor too),
> could sew and crochet and knit… and on and on. We were ALL makers. Everyone
> did whatever it took to get the job done, and learned what was necessary to
> accomplish the task. On a side note (which turns out to be surprisingly
> pertinent), there was a high degree of conservatism. Everyone’s garage had
> boxes of every nut, bolt, screw, nail, spark plug, spring, hinge, etc. that
> they ever laid their hands on. Nothing was ever thrown away because money
> was short and you never knew when you might need something. People used
> their heads and hands and hearts to the fullest on every task. Nothing was
> taken for granted. (Just like early programmers didn’t waste RAM.)
> Not sure if what I am about to say is helpful or if it is what you are
> looking for, Herb, but allow me to relate a short story of personal
> experience. When I was a kid, I was always interested in electricity and
> electronics. My mom bought me several of the Radio Shack x-hundred-in-one
> electronics project kits and other types of technical project kits. My dad
> let me wire our basement around age 10 after reading a small booklet about
> wiring switches, outlets, and fuse boxes. I absorbed the stuff and was
> enthralled by it. I couldn’t get enough knowledge about science and
> technology (still true about me now).
> In my early teens, my school got a computer for the first time (TRS-80
> Model I). Shortly thereafter my sister bought me my first computer
> (Commodore VIC-20). This afforded me my first exposure (immersion) and the
> opportunity to teach myself BASIC. I spend countless hours writing programs
> because that was the only way to get programs. Computers actually came with
> books back then and I read every word.
> To a small degree, I understood binary and how a computer operated on it. I
> also had a basic understanding of electronic circuits and transistors.
> However, I didn't understand how they worked together.
> Then I met a guy who I considered to be an electronic genius, literally. He
> could mentally visualize all kinds of complex circuits and could design,
> build, or repair anything. I was always envious of his level of skill and
> considered myself a beginner/novice/idiot by comparison.
> One day this guy was working on some electronic stuff with me and showed me
> a simple 7400 IC. He showed me how you give it power, set voltages on the
> input pins and get voltages on the output pins based on the function of the
> logic gate. It sounds simple and maybe silly, but this small experience was
> a huge revelation to me. So you mean that 0 volts is a logic 0 and 5 volts
> is a logic 1? That is how numbers and electronics relate to each other?
> Suddenly a whole new world opened up to me.
> A few months later I wrote by hand on paper (and hand programmed byte by
> byte with a homemade EPROM burner with toggle switches) a small Z-80
> machine language program after teaching myself the instruction set by
> reading the reference book. I also built a digital frequency display for my
> CB radio that had custom outputs driven by EPROM data. On another project I
> interfaced a touch-tone decoder and a relay to my VIC-20 to control a light
> in my house. The hardware and software relationship finally made sense, and
> the opportunities were endless.
> Because of that experience (and also just because I am very analytical) I
> would never be able to take any electronic (or mechanical) device for
> granted. I had gained an understanding at such a basic level which allowed
> me to see past the superficial, that no matter how complex something was I
> could understand or at least appreciated what the engineers must have gone
> through to make it work.
> Today, technology is wrapped up in a neat package, handed to you, and does
> everything automatically. Today the software and hardware are inaccessible
> and invisible and all one sees are the bells and whistles. A partial answer
> to your question is that people need to learn what is inside that makes
> things work, what came generations before which allowed people to learn to
> develop the way to make things work, and that there is more to a device
> than what you see on the surface so learn to appreciate the intricacies of
> how something functions. Above I have shared part of how I learned to
> appreciate these things. I am not sure how to convey that knowledge to
> others. Perhaps find a way to pull back the curtain and expose a facet that
> might pique someone’s interest beyond their usual experience. I was
> personally interested in learning, but I fear that most people aren't.
> Attention spans are much shorter, the noise level is almost insurmountable.
> I heard a sales saying from an old boss that goes, “people don’t buy
> drills, they buy holes”. Sell the people what they want somehow. Offer a
> reason why it matters to them so that you can then deliver the message. It
> is very difficult to say why one person is receptive to something and
> another is not.
> I hope this was useful and/or interesting.
> Chris Fala

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