Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Planning for Technological Change--My Way

My first computer came with two 5-inch floppy drives. You put the software in the A drive and saved your work in the B drive. The monitor had green print on a black screen. We used Wordstar, PC File, and a very simple in-house e-mail system. I used a dot matrix printer for drafts and switched over to an IBM Selectric typewriter for letter-quality documents. Very cool.

In a pattern repeated many times since, about the time I got comfortable with the set up everything changed. The new computer included a hard drive, a drive for 3-inch disks, and a drive for the already obsolete 5-inch floppies The ability to install programs on the hard drive was a big improvement over the old two-drive systems. It was also the last time I had a clue about how to use my computer.

We didn't have computer support staff back then. The "Dummy" books didn't exist either. Everything came with a thick manual written by engineers who probably grew up speaking a language other than English. Over time the manuals did get better, but by then everyone had given up trying to read them. One day the manuals just disappeared, along with free telephone help lines.

For a while I was the guy everyone came to for help with computer issues. Now I know they came to me because I was the youngest person in the office. I, too, eventually turned 30 and was suddenly just as helpless as everybody else.

More than my age, I blame Windows with its dazzling array of capabilities and its allegedly user-friendly interface. Prior to Windows, I knew exactly what my computer could do and how to do it--usually with DOS commands. After Windows came out, we spent hours and hours with control panels and settings struggling valiantly to do simple things as our PCs crashed around us.

It wasn't all bad. Windows did come with a lot of new programs, including a few you might actually use. Some were revolutionary. Offices across the country were forever changed by Hearts, Solitaire and Mine Sweeper.

Things are a lot more sophisticated now. With the change we've seen in the last 30 years, imagine what we might see 10 and 20 years from now. The greatest challenge for our generation? We're going to need to keep someone 20 to 25 years old nearby for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with our own version of the VCR at our parents' house that blinks 12:00 all the time.

It's enough to make anyone...

The Crotchety Old Man


Jay said...

I'm still trying to convince my wife that I need someone--okay, a woman--around who is "20 to 25 years younger" so she can help me with Windows. I don't know why she doesn't believe me.

Crotchety O. Man said...

Jay, you are either in denial about your age or lack essential math skills. You need a woman 25 to 30 years younger or you'll have to replace her in a year or two!

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