I believe it would be useful if everyone would share their personal story of learning to use and using computers, and relating to other computer users. A brief summary of my computer story follows:
I am not new to computers, or as I prefer: Systems of Intelligent Tools. I only began to use computers when they could do something for me: word-processing. In the 1960-70s I knew people who worked on mainframes and later people who were computer hobbyists. An Apple II with a Z80 card for using WordStar was my first computer in the early 1980s. Today I have digital documents that would collectively fill many books, but they remain poorly organized. On a single day, in one issue of The Futurist I discovered hypertext (via Ted Nelson) and online conferencing (via Peter & Trudy Johnson-Lenz). My life changed. I soon had a new IBM to play MIST+ and was trying to construct a hypertext online seminar system. It worked, but was too complex to get others to use. I was inspired by the innovative software of Neil Larson (MaxThink, Houdini, Hyper) and the augmentation visions of Doug Englebart. I grew up with the technology, but never learned programming and adding a hard drive was my limit with the hardware.
Yet, I became a consultant for those who could use what I knew – which remains very limited within the whole field of Intelligent Tools. I was online before there was The Internet and the WWW – and from the beginning was concerned with how others learned to use computers. I presented (on the potential of virtual projects and communities) at the national meeting of ENA (Electronic Networkers Association) in 1987, where the theme was “Beyond Conferencing”. The commercialization of cyberspace accelerated the technology in many dimensions, but retarded it in many others.
As the decades advanced I tried and used a variety of intelligent tools. Yet, I seem to have fallen farther and farther behind in my competencies. I devote more time today keeping my PC functional than I did with my old DOS computers. Today I experience more crashes and slowdowns than ever before. When I try using tools advertised to improve functioning, things get worse. Each new app tries to take over my computer and compete with other apps. At this moment I am contemplating buying a new computer, or reformatting my HD – but I want a system that I can keep stable and I don’t know how.
I find that the help systems get more and more complex and difficult for someone with my learning style to use effectively. There are many features on my applications that I don’t make an effort to use, even though I know they would be useful. Recently trying to set up a blog on WordPress I realized that the technology of conferencing and communicating had advanced significantly – primarily by those whose primary interest is system functionality and elegance. This is great, but it has generated a new vocabulary, a knowledge of which is often implied in the help systems.
A final word, that needs further explication. I know that the contemporary technology is grossly underutilized by all users – and there is a wide and expanding distribution of uses and users, and levels of competency. The number of computers owned today, and the number of people who go online is a deceptive measure of our collective competency with Systems of Intelligent Tools. This issue appears to be invisible, probably because it calls for an education/organization effort so far out-of-the-box that few can imagine it. Yet, I believe it to be an essential theme in our new story of The Great Turning. A first start would be learning our collective levels of competency with Systems of Intelligent Tools, and what we need yet to learn.