Sunday morning (early) and my three year old is watching Sleeping Beauty for the
323rd time. It’s a ‘video’, feeding into something called a
‘TV’. Can you imagine taking this equipment back into the 1920’s, to the
time of the ‘silver screen’ and ‘talking pictures’?
I wonder whether you’d be seen as a God or imprisoned as an alien from
not easy writing this story with one eye watching the Wicked Witch
concoct a nasty potion, one hand working the occasional spoonful of
porridge into the mouth of a mesmerised child, and the other eye and hand
operating a notebook balanced on your knee. Oh, I forgot to mention. I’m
writing this on a Toshiba 440 CDT notebook – about 3 years old, already a
combat veteran and almost obsolete.
My notebook is part of me, and never far away, but it’s due for
replacement soon, since it can’t handle the software and graphics I need to
maintain our company’s website. Software?
consider myself part of a lucky group, not a big group either, a sub-group
really, of the ‘chronologically gifted’ (middle-aged) set who were forced to
embrace computer technology just as it started to take off in the mid-80’s,
lucky enough to work for a company who sent me on my first one-day computer
training course in 1985, and then allowed me time to experiment at work, since I
along with thousands of others could not afford a ‘personal computer’,
otherwise known as the PC. I’ve only attended one ‘training course’ since
then and it was a complete waste of time. Everything else I have learned has
been through reading the manuals and experimentation – but that’s just me,
we all learn in different ways.
some ways I could draw a parallel with the fact that at age 19, my mate and I
reconditioned a 1953 Ford 10 motor in his Dad’s garage, and for the bits where
we didn’t know what we were doing, we had a manual! With photo’s!
These days I look under the bonnet of my Mitsubishi Diamante and I
recognise the battery, radiator, intakes, exhaust… er… and that’s about
it. So I drive the car, only having a rough idea of what’s going on under the
bonnet. I consider myself a competent, safe, driver. As we all do…
back to computers. Let’s agree something – the adult population out there
ranges from complete ignorance about computers, to being expert software
programmers and hardware technicians. Where are you on that scale?
I can tell you, from my profession, is that the number of unskilled jobs in NZ
has fallen by 60% in the last 20 years, yet we are still churning out unskilled
– illiterate – young people from our schools, who then compete with mature
unskilled and illiterate workers for an ever–reducing number of positions in
the job market. Take a look at the ‘Sits Vac’ in your local paper. Better
yet – go have a look in your own wheelhouse (if you have one) or go look in
someone else’s, and take in the array of electronic wizardry in a modern
wheelhouse. Even your basic long-liner has a colour depth-sounder masquerading
as a fish-finder, and the more affluent have an autopilot and a radar, while the
carefree rich will add GPS and then software to hook the autopilot, the radar,
and the GPS together. Tongue in cheek, but one has to wonder how, with all this
gear, some of us still manage to park vessels on large, conspicuous lumps of
land…perhaps it’s localised continental drift. “I swear the island moved,
any of you out there who have yet to embrace a keyboard, let me say this. After
15 years of stumbling around on one, I know about half of what my notebook PC is
capable of. I will never know all of it, and I’ve stopped trying to, or
worrying about it. I’m about to buy a new one, ten times faster in ‘thinking
speed’, and I’ll never know more than about 50% of its true capability.
I’ve designed and ‘put up’ a business website for my company of over 150
pages (not flash, but practical), and I maintain it myself. I communicate by
email. I’ve learned by reading, trial and error, and enthusiasm. I know what
the buttons do. I have absolutely no idea how the buttons do it, I
don’t need to know, and I don’t want to know. I am a hands-on
kind of bloke. Don’t tell me about it – show me, then let me have a go. Or
give me a plain language manual with pictures and a logical flow and leave me to
it. I failed algebra at school, because it was stupid and irrelevant and I
couldn’t understand it. I enjoyed Geometry and Trigonometry because you could
work out how high something was, or how far away it was, or the right course to
question is: How many of you are like me, but haven’t mastered the PC yet
because (1) you don’t think you need to, or (2) you’re worried that you
won’t be able to master it.
on this: The number of Senior Citizen ‘chat rooms’ on the Internet
quadruples every 3 months, and at last count (estimate only) there were over
12,000 such clubs worldwide. That represents an estimated 500,000 senior
citizens (over 60’s) who have ‘mastered’ the PC to the extent that they
can turn it on, get the right programme up, hook on to the phone line, and hit
the right buttons to ‘talk’ to others. Most people use PC’s to type
letters and do their accounts. To that extent the PC is simply a glorified
typewriter and calculator rolled into one, with a TV screen to watch it on. You
don’t have to know how the button does what it does. You just need to
know which one to hit. I will say however, that to relegate a PC to that
limited use, is to ignore the Internet and its power to provide limitless
knowledge. Knowledge is power.
Gates designed his programmes to be operated by people like me, who represent
the other half of the population that leans to the creative rather than the
technical. There’s only thing he hasn’t yet done, and I wish he would do it
soon. Every now and then you’ll get a message on screen that says, “The
grortwurzel on the bracdeeizer needs to be refragged. Do you want to do this?”
and then gives you only 2 options – “Yes” and “No”. I want Bill to
give me another button that says “Stuffed if I know – do what makes you feel
Steve Punter ANZIM,
Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.