COMPUTERS – WHO NEEDS ‘EM? #RRBC

“I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.”

~ Bill Gates

Bill Gates (1955 – ) is an American entrepreneur who co-founded Microsoft in 1975. The company took off and became the world’s largest personal computer software company, netting him a tidy personal fortune. The overwhelming majority of computer users throughout the world are using or have used software applications created by Microsoft. A significant number of his software engineers and writers were recruited, by Gates himself, from my Alma Mater, the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

I began my teaching career in 1973 and the best tools I had at my disposal were an electronic typewriter (capable of typo corrections… wow!) for creating learning materials and tests/exams, a basic, four-function calculator for the calculation of averages for report cards, and the school duplicator. Every time I needed to revise documents used in class, it meant retyping the entire document; so that quickly became a deterring factor since I never learned the skill of touch-typing. As well, mark calculations for report cards were a nightmare on my simple calculator. Often I’d come home with purple ink stains on my hands and clothing from that beloved duplicator.

The advent of the personal computer ignited my imagination like no other technological development of the Twentieth Century! My first one was an IBM dual disk drive with 64 K memory and a monitor with 64 shades of gray. Drive A handled all the program disks (apps) and information was saved to disks in Drive B. The system was primitive, but at the time it was a mind-blowing experience. Microsoft Word took care of all of my word processing needs, while Excel helped me organize and calculate report card marks – until specialized apps were developed for teachers needing help with student marks.

The personal computer and the software programs/apps being developed revolutionized what I was doing in the classroom. It quickly became the most important tool at my disposal. It allowed me to review and revise all the documents I used in the classroom quickly and efficiently. This marvelous tool paved the way to the writing and publication of my first book “Getting It Right in History Class”. And that publication led me to begin thinking about a writing career.

Bill Gates mentions the role played by personal computers as “… tools of creativity.” Actually, just about any artistic endeavor we can imagine can be created to some degree by software apps on our own computers or on Internet sites. I can write a book, hire someone online to edit the manuscript, create my own book cover, convert the finished product into the files that can be uploaded to produce an ebook, a paperback edition, or even a hardcover edition. From the first draft to finished product can be done on my computer, in addition to the self-publishing process via the Internet. For someone my age, this is nothing short of miraculous!

Thanks to personal computers and the Internet we can shop for goods (even our groceries!), manage our bank accounts and invest in the stock market. Millions of people worldwide depend on this tool for their business, commerce and banking, hobbies, and entertainment. As well, social media on the Internet allows us to make virtual friends and business associates and communicate easily and regularly. Social media is even playing a role in social change through organized protests and even revolutions.

Gates concludes by stating that these tools “…can be shaped by their user.”  Not only can computer users apply software apps in different ways for their own purposes, but the hardware itself can be modified to perform in ways unique to the user.

The question that nags at me, is not whether or not we need personal computers, but rather, what would happen if the Internet went down? What if the power grid went down for a long period of time? I realize how dependent we are for all the reasons named above, but how dependent are we psychologically? To what extent do our computer and Internet dependencies harm our personal relationships and our societal relationships? Have we become electronic recluses? Now we can take our computer activities with us outside of the home by way of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Are the benefits worth the costs of the drawbacks?

Have you ever watched a couple in a restaurant who aren’t talking to each other, but are busy texting or sending and receiving email on their phones? Is this just their addiction to their devices or do they have a serious problem in their relationship? How can I be truly present to my companion if I have my nose buried in my smartphone? The honest answer is, I cannot. The personal computer and all of our digital devices are technological blessings, but they are also truly a threat to our interpersonal relationships when we allow our usage of these devices to go unchecked.

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Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

23 thoughts on “COMPUTERS – WHO NEEDS ‘EM? #RRBC”

  1. What a trip down memory lane, John! Truly fun trip through time that raises important things to consider as society moves forward.

    Reading your words brought the smell of those grade-school mimeographed sheets right back, as well as memories of hours spent learning every feature of the software that came with my own first computer after college — a CPM “luggable” Kaypro with less memory and fewer features than the least capable ubiquitous smart-phone today (don’t get me started – lol)

    I was one of the VERY few females in the NYC Kaypro users group I located to help me get up to speed so that I could use it as a tool more than a hobby. Got a TON of help as a result (and a couple of great restaurant meals!) 🙂

    My mother’s mother refused to allow her to take typing in school (too “blue collar” for my grandmother to even think about allowing any college-bound child of hers to learn a “secretarial” skill). Since my mother struggled to teach herself on our kitchen table she *insisted* that my brother and I include the course in OUR “college bound” curriculum.

    Few skills have stood me in such good stead throughout my life, *especially* after the advent of personal computers, and now as a blogger. “Word processing” also kept a roof over my head between shows during my acting years in NYC.

    As time marched on I stepped through a dos computer and then began [grudgingly] following Gates once he took that Open Domain format into *MS-Dos* and began to build his personal financial empire – “floppy disks” and all to begin with. I was never a fan due to that move, but, as a keyboarder, I wasn’t fond of Apple’s format either. I didn’t want to take my hands off the keyboard to mouse around.

    I finally went Mac with the development of the graphical interface of Windows, generally hanging back from Apple’s “bleeding edge” – a habit developed during my Gate’s years when version 1.0 NEVER worked very well.

    I have a writer friend who came very late to the computer party. She used to joke that she would make her fortune with her pen and yellow legal pad, hiring out as a scribe when the internet went down – lol. Even she had to acknowledge the usefulness eventually, however, and now owns a laptop and quite a few other computerized devices. And I know that many fortunes have already been made – and will still be made – protecting that very internet from hackers. Internet security is a thriving industry today.

    Miniaturization of computerized “devices” is another good news/bad news topic. I don’t even take my cell on walks with Tink because I want my attention on the experience and on him. So, for me, cellphone addiction is a relationship deal-breaker. That’s one of my boundaries – lol.
    xx,
    mgh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve often thought that my generation is the one that was perfectly positioned to be familiar with non-computer communication technology and then experience the advent of what we have today. In my high school (all boys Catholic school) there was no keyboarding course, so I never learned. I’ve done a ton of word processing as a single fingered typist! I tried to learn on my own with a “learn to type” program on one of my first computers… too frustrating.

      Your point is well taken about the positive/negative sides of cell phones. People get upset with me when they text me while I’m driving and I won’t read it or answer it. I guess the fact that it’s illegal doesn’t faze people – not to mention that it’s dangerous!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. GOOD FOR YOU! I don’t even like to speak on the phone with folks who are driving, even if I’m not. I tell them that I don’t want to live with the knowledge that mine turned out to be the last number on their phone when the emergency folks show up to pick through the wreckage!

        If I am aware that they are, in fact, calling from their car, I ask them to call me back when they get to where they are going. As far as the folks who are upset by that stand – *they* don’t get to vote on *our* boundaries! To [mis]quote some commercial for some product I don’t recall, “Set ’em and forget ’em.” 🙂

        As for teaching oneself to touch type, my mother managed to do it to a limited degree, but it was a frustrating experience for her and she worked at it for what seemed to me like years.

        It was tough enough for ME in a class! I never picked up much speed or ease until my first job where what I was expected to “process” came in reams! Hated it at the time, but have been SO grateful ever since.

        Part of the reason I *refuse* to text is that I absolutely despise the idea of going back to hunt-and-peck typing. Truly, I don’t know how you – or anybody – manages to write or blogs if you do *not* touch type. THAT would be too frustrating for me.
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m with you on the phone calls while driving – even hands-free Bluetooth calls are distracting. But so is any other conversation in the car a distraction.

          Okay, I learned to type with my right index finger on an old Underwood typewriter – I learned where the keys were. When the computer keyboards came out, my speed increased because you only needed to touch a key (touch-type). With the old typewriters, you had to pound the keys. I quit trying to learn to touch type when I realized I was faster with one finger. It literally flies over the keys. I use my left hand for the shift key and some numbers. Unlike you, I was never forced by circumstances to master touch typing. I’m sure I’d be more productive today if I had.

          As a writer, I’m okay with the pace. It’s what you’re used to. I am frustrated typing on a phone – my fingers tend to hit the wrong keys too often. I have friends who will write a blog on their phone. Good grief! I never learned to use thumbs on my phone keyboard. I don’t do a lot of Internet tasks on my phone because I’m not comfortable with the screen size. I have the iPhone 6 Plus and find it frustratingly small after my 27 inch iMac at home.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Totally with your on the tiny keys and screens of even the largest smart phones. I wish they’d make them more the size of a Kindle instead of going ever-smaller (or make the Kindles capable of making a call). I still wouldn’t write on them, but I MIGHT consider brief texts and/or a bit of i-net browsing & brief commenting. NEVER gonna’ happen on my iPhone – give me a “real” keyboard and a huge monitor any day!

            The chances of having an accident while talking on the phone while you drive is statistically the same as driving over the legal limit for alcohol according to multiple reaction time studies, btw – EVEN hands-free.

            The difference between a phone conversation and one with a live human being riding with you is that, not only do you have an extra pair of eyes on the lookout for potential dangers, most adults stop talking when road conditions turn dicey. The extra few seconds it takes to say, “Gotta go” and hang up the phone could make a world of difference to your safety and security.

            In any case, the studies are fairly conclusive on the dangers of using a cell phone for ANY purpose while driving.
            xx,
            mgh

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I agree – I use my cell in the car to play my downloaded tunes on the car sound system by Bluetooth. I marvel that these tunes are sitting on the hard drive of my iMac – synched to my iPhone and I hear them in the car by way of the ‘cloud’. It’s funny though – every time I get an email or text, the sound fades for a second. Lovely!

              Liked by 1 person

                    1. I like being able to know what’s going on when I’m away from my computer. I’ll do short responses on the phone – if circumstances allow, but I’ll wait to compose longer responses on my computer. Hugs!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Different strokes – but then you are probably away from your computer more often than I am – and better able to cope with distractions when you are. I imagine you also want your wife to be able to get in touch. Tink usually is with me (and I refuse to get him a cellphone – lol).
                      xx,
                      mgh

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am in agreement with your assessment of computers. People are not developing their social skills anymore. I hate watching a young mother holding her toddlers hand and talking on her phone with the other, completely ignoring the child. Its scary. I appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Shirley. Yes, there are irresponsible parents out there – and I’m sure they’d be the same way even without their devices. Many people are developing their social skills online. What I find very frightening are the number of people who allow their devices to distract them while driving a car. I wonder if the carnage on the roadways will significantly drop once humans stop driving cars and robotic cars do the driving.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My friend,
    You have asked some important questions that we all need to think about. I personally don’t think we have. I believe we would have a chaos outbreak which would destroy many. When I think back on the year 1929 when money played a big role in the world. People were so busy concentrating on getting rich that when Black Friday came, dread and fear drove people to commit suicide. They had lost all their money, and this took place in all parts of the world on that fateful day. But, let me also point out a most recent example from today’s time. The computers in Delta Airline went down around the world about three weeks ago. I don’t know about your part of the world but here in Frankfurt, people filled the airline terminal as Delta worked frantically to find out what the problem was. People were flipping out.

    What happens when an adult or a child can no longer calculate 2+2 or 9X2 without putting it into his or her smartphone or even asking Siri, how much are these two values? What are the chances that people will forget how to drive their own cars once the kinks have been ironed out of cars that are able to drive themselves?

    I enjoy the privileges that we have, but I also see the danger. We are becoming lazy, mentally. We don’t think for ourselves. Instead, we say one minute when asked a question, and we google Google to see what Google thinks and regurgitate it as our thoughts.

    Excellent article, John. It tickled my gray cells.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat

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    1. Again, many thanks Pat, for your thoughtful commentary. It’s been my experience that intellectually lazy people will be that way no matter what technology is available to them. So, I don’t think that our devices are creating the problem of which you speak.

      I have been retired from education for just over 8 years now, and I have never been busier in my life! Most of my waking hours are spent in front of my Mac working on tasks I would never have dreamed of ten years ago. It seems that my brain is in overdrive and I find that sometimes it gets in the way of getting to sleep at night.

      Whether a person is intellectually lazy or very active, he or she must strive to find balance in their day-to-day living – between their digital and online activity and their personal relationships and duties in the “real world” for lack of a better term.

      Thanks for your support and Peace be to you as well!

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  4. John; I have been away for about a month traveling with the wife in Scotland, England & Ireland so have been incommunicado. That being said I am reminded of what our mothers told us; everything in moderation! In my mind social skills have gone down the tubes & younger people today don’t even have basic math skills. Went to a concert last night & the beer sign read $5 each or 4 for $20! Such a deal. Glad to be back & look forward to more of your postings my friend. rick wasso

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  5. There’s no question that computers/the internet have revolutionised the way we work and communicate – mostly for the good I believe, but there’s always a downside and the negative inroads into our personal relationships is worrying. I’d include cyber-crime and identity theft as one of the big offenders on that count, but the danger of leeching away at personal investment in our closest relationships shouldn’t be underplayed.
    I’ve lost and benefitted equally on the personal investment front, gaining wonderful online friends who’ve crossed the border into my physical world and having my cyber-life gain more importance over my marital relationship for a time. It’s a play-off in the end.
    What is most important to you always win the priority game and, for me, is ‘personified’ in my relationship with eBooks and traditional printed paper ones. The ones I really love are all in hard or paperback – there has to be a real physical connection which includes words staying where they’re put… a bit like people too – social media is never as good as looking someone in the eye and being able to touch them! 😉

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Jan. I’m sure that most people can identify with your online experience. There certainly are mixed blessings involved, but in the final analysis, this issue underlines the need to achieve and maintain balance in all that we do. Thanks for your support!

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