[vcf-midatlantic] OT: people don't understand computers anymore
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
> > 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
> > 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
> > their fundamental nature and approach to computing (personal or
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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 no longer active questions.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
> > by magic now, little user intervention needed. Even the computer dealers
> > (by my experience) don't know "how" they work, they just work. On
> > "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.
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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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