Computers are not a fad

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, April 12, 2023


Coffee with Mimi

Fads come and go, make a comeback, then go again, although sometimes not fast enough. Bell bottomed pants have come and gone in a couple variations over the last couple centuries. For the time being, they don’t appear among the trends of the upcoming season. But, give them time.

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Padded shoulders are another story (with apologies to Elsa Schiaparelli). There are those who hold that the reappearance of shoulder padding signals advancement in the status of women. All I envision is the Carol Burnett routine in which she wore a curtain rod while recreating the classic character Scarlett O’Hara in one of the funniest sketches in TV history.

In social history and political history, cycles of events are clear. This thing happens because that thing did and the result is predictable over the course of time. Rinse and repeat, as the saying goes.

However, some things just keep on going and going and going. There is no pause, or turning back. For better or for worse, it is full speed ahead. Consider the world of computing devices.

In my lifetime, nearly seven decades, the use of computers has moved from enormous machines which were objects limited to use in the military, the space race, and other fields, often highly secret, in the scientific world. My first interactions in the world of computers was in college. A grad student teaching in the math department tortured our calculus class with programming, a phrase with which we had little, or no, experience beyond the sequence of numbers in a band concert.

Never-the-less, computer programming was now part of our class requirement. Somewhere in the depths of the math building was a computer. Each week, the erstwhile grad student assigned a math problem. The requirement, for a grade, was to program the computer to solve the problem. This assumed we could solve the problem on paper first. That was not the issue, usually. The real challenge was to tell the computer how to do it. One tiny little command at a time punched on cards which were fed into the computer somewhere in the basement of the math building.

Math was really my thing. There is order to it. I loved to figure it out. I particularly liked word problems. I loved translating words describing a problem into a sentence of numbers and symbols. Just a few months before the math/computer class, I had happily earned really good grades with my prized math tool. A slide rule. I saved up my money to purchase a calculator. It cost $76.00. It was the best brand available for the time, and I had to forgo spring break on the beach to afford it. But, it was the wave of the future and I was headed to a career in accounting.

Typing was never my thing. I dropped out of the summer school typing class after one day. I had to sign up for the class in the first place because I wanted to take band and physics, and such. All of which coincided during the regular school year with typing. I couldn’t imagine a summer of ASDF JKL; when there was so much else to do.

Correctly typing the commands on the cards for the computer to read was next to impossible. I did survive the ordeal. What also survived was an ingrained fear of computers. I would probably never need to use one anyway, and I really hated typing out those cards, so why delve into it now.

How wrong could I have been? Actually, computers are a thing of the past. Today we have laptops, desktops, cell phones, tablets, devices on our wrists, in our cars, in our appliances. The stuff computers of today can do is not a fad, and most certainly will not come and go at the whim of trendsetters. We are only heading forward and at a rapid pace.

Which brings me to my fears of college days – that I have no idea what I am doing. Just when I conquer one iteration of a particular program and feel so proud of myself, the folks who really know what they are doing come up with a new version. Yesterday, I could whip out a spiffy website post, today I can’t find the buttons to push to upload a saved photo into the spot of my choosing.

The time spent trying to figure it out, using my cell phone to ask Google, is never enough. Besides that, the version to which the instructions refer does not remotely resemble what I see on my screen. I abandon the process, focusing on something I can fathom.

Out of necessity, it is absolutely imperative that I get the issue resolved. I brew a cup of coffee, log in, and try the task again.

In the interim, I had received several notices that some elements of my website had been automatically updated. I have no idea what that means.

Maybe the folks behind the curtain noticed that the job could be much simpler. It was, and now is. Faster than the speed of light. Until the next version.