Friday, March 16, 2012

I Love/Hate Computers

I love computers -- most of the time.

In the late 1980s the office where I worked was "easing" into computer use.  Management wanted to see if the computer fad lasted for a while.  Our office prepared numerous, lengthy documents and the "new" technology obviously fit our needs.  At the time, the firm had a "data" office which utilized punch cards (Google it!) for such projects.  Data use was designated to a few specifically trained women. 

The conversion began with a few secretaries being trained.  This was a revolutionary step and separated those willing to try new technology from the IBM Selectric (Google it!) die hards.  Some people in the office actually lost their jobs when they refused to convert.  Progress is not always pretty.

Between 1990 and 1992, the majority of businesses seemed to jump on the computer bandwagon.  Computers were efficient despite the initial costs involved in training and equipment.  Some of us secretly balked at the change. We didn't like feeling awkward and clumsy with new-fangled "machinery" but took comfort in the fact that this was all new to us at the same time.  We looked to each other for support, asking one another how to shift from single to double space and other basics.  Supervisors may have agonized over the slow learning curve, but this was a period beneficial to many of us as shortcuts were shared.  It was the end of any era.

In those days, there was also the issue of "which" program one used.  There was DOS and WordPerfect (Google it!) in various versions with fans for each, along with other programs which seemed to emerge weekly.  Each system was somewhat different and employers were hesitant to hire someone that didn’t know the current in-house favorite. 

Times have changed.  Programs in various offices have morphed into a general format that is adaptable and easily implemented by new hires.  Of course, a few variations remain.  But no longer is there the need for retraining and with a rudimentary understanding of computer use, most people can quickly pick up necessary techniques. 

We now peck-peck away our days, staring at flat screen monitors without little real  mental activity.  After all, supposedly if you put a group of monkeys in a roomful of typewriters (Google it!), eventually they will type something worthwhile. 

Sometimes I miss the rhythmic sound of a typewriter and the feel of its keys as they strike.   I recently read that typewriters are actually making something of a comeback, mostly for nostalgic reasons.   

There is something comforting about fingers dancing across the typewriter's keys.  And typewriters don't quit mysteriously.  If a typewriter stops working, it's because of very few variables.  The typist has stopped typing.  There is no paper on the roller.  The ribbon needs to be replaced.  Several keys are stuck together, requiring a finger to ply them apart before continuing. 

Computers, on the other hands, can have countless problems.  A virus.  A loose wall plug.  Who the heck knows what else?  And the trouble can only be solved by talking to a computer whiz who understands what goes on inside the mysterious contraption.  I am willing to pay someone smart enough to diagnose the problem just as long as it is resolved.  Because when my understanding of modern technology is interrupted, I want to set my hair on fire and run down the street.

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