Perhaps heard most often on the phone is the phrase ‘I’m not really computer literate’. At least I hear it a heck of a lot, and my response that I usually keep to myself is ‘Well, why not?’. The time for that to be an acceptable position is long past. Personal computers have been part of our landscape for over three decades and they have only become increasingly intuitive. The amount of free help out there is daunting, and while you get what you pay for, google and wikipedia have put the old door to door Brittanica fellow out of a job. There still exists among a large portion of our population a reticence to accept computers on both an intellectual and visceral level, and frankly, it’s just unacceptable. ‘Be wired or be gone’ is another phrase bandied about and it rings true for a great number of reasons and at all levels of human existence. This is not a fad, this is not a demo, the burn in period is over, computers are an everyday, every hour part of life.
Now some may scoff, wince, and turn the page at this, mumbling something about never owning a cell phone, or maybe that the set of World Book’s from 1986 is all they need to reference any question they have about the platypus. And I will not deny them their say as I had that very set of encyclopedias and felt smarter for having them, in 1986. I also got my first Apple IIe computer at roughly the same time, and by no means do I take for granted the printed pages and their part in my education. I was fortunate though, to have that computer at such an age and to have Mrs. Millett, my third grade teacher as a early adopter and advocate for computers in the classroom and beyond. My generation was the first to receive hands on use of computers at an early age in the public school system. This is why we have little or no fear in computing today, and it’s also why your grandchildren can show you how to navigate the menus with ease on your flat screen television, tivo, iPod, GPS, blackberry, you name it. I was setting the clocks on the worlds VCRs when I was a boy, but today kids that age are writing simple programs that can control the appliances in your home.
If you have moved past the first stage of technology acceptance, the second level is the ‘user by rote’. This type despises any and all changes to a computer, program, or system, but can work efficiently for a near eternity, so long as the order of actions remains the same. I still have many customers that fall into this category, and they are invaluable members of our workforce. They just want a list to follow, and they prefer it stay ‘just so’. A computer upgrade is not an upgrade to them, it is a hinderance, and at times a return to zero. These users would just as soon stick with an outdated, virus-ridden operating system than upgrade to newer, faster, more secure lifestyle. To them Windows 98 was the zenith of computer development and any changes since have caused more trouble than not. Many of them have a poster of a kitten perilously clinging to a branch with the phrase ‘hang in there’, posted near by. Another tell tail sign of this user is the number of times they click the button on the mouse. A double click for everything? This person has not adapted to change well at all.
Moving past this stage we have our most feared user. He who knows just enough to be dangerous. Clearly this individual wants to accept and use technology. It is likely that, some well meaning IT professional or youth has shown them enough keyboard shortcuts and tricks that he feels empowered. Empowered enough to buy into the newest technology, an iPhone perhaps, only to have it seemingly blow up in his face when those keystrokes don’t apply similarly. They usually power through however, and the best advancement for this group can be found when they are not afraid to ask questions, or seek out help. Help menus and google are invaluable to them. These are the folks who got burned by the Lord Voldemort of operating systems, Vista. The early adopters of that system can barely say it’s name without vitriol, if at all, and deservedly so. They are also the rather vocal majority that has everyone repeating the scorn in mockingbird fashion. Vista has gotten much better, but they’ll never know it, it’s on to 7! And good riddance I say. 7 is a cleaned up, streamlined Vista 2. Believe the hype, as much as you believed in the maligning of Vista, 7 is solid.
And then there’s fools like me. I want the latest, bleeding edge, beta version of everything. I don’t care if it wipes out my entire computer, I can fix that. I’m the one who was using an internet phone service more than five years ago. It sucked. I still have it, although under a different moniker, and now it’s great. I still have my first iPod, the first generation one that’s as big as a deck of cards. They can fit as much music onto a player the size of a thumbtack now. I have a Mac computer museum graveyard that I should really do away with. It begins to remind me of how much those things cost and how quickly they depreciate. And yes, I always upgrade to the latest operating system, and it’s good for you that I do. That way, when you call and ask me if you should upgrade, i can give you a hands-on response which typically is, ‘not yet’. We are societies beta testers, and we get taken advantage of by the big companies for our inability to resist their shiny claims, but it also puts us in the position to resolutely pan an emerging technology that doesn’t live up to it’s advertising ballyhoo.
So I need you, and you, like it or not, need me. I’ll be vetting these new trinkets eternally, and on the far end, you will accept these pieces as useful, but only after they’ve become so ubiquitous and inexpensive that it’s a near impossibility to functionally exist without it, and that’s just fine. By that time, I will invariably be on to the next, and I can’t wait.