“I think it’s fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we’ve ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user.”
~ Bill Gates
Bill Gates (1955 – ) is an American entrepreneur who co-founded Microsoft in 1975. The company took off and became the world’s largest personal computer software company, netting him a tidy personal fortune. The overwhelming majority of computer users throughout the world are using or have used software applications created by Microsoft. A significant number of his software engineers and writers were recruited, by Gates himself, from my Alma Mater, the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
I began my teaching career in 1973 and the best tools I had at my disposal were an electronic typewriter (capable of typo corrections… wow!) for creating learning materials and tests/exams, a basic, four-function calculator for the calculation of averages for report cards, and the school duplicator. Every time I needed to revise documents used in class, it meant retyping the entire document; so that quickly became a deterring factor since I never learned the skill of touch-typing. As well, mark calculations for report cards were a nightmare on my simple calculator. Often I’d come home with purple ink stains on my hands and clothing from that beloved duplicator.
The advent of the personal computer ignited my imagination like no other technological development of the Twentieth Century! My first one was an IBM dual disk drive with 64 K memory and a monitor with 64 shades of gray. Drive A handled all the program disks (apps) and information was saved to disks in Drive B. The system was primitive, but at the time it was a mind-blowing experience. Microsoft Word took care of all of my word processing needs, while Excel helped me organize and calculate report card marks – until specialized apps were developed for teachers needing help with student marks.
The personal computer and the software programs/apps being developed revolutionized what I was doing in the classroom. It quickly became the most important tool at my disposal. It allowed me to review and revise all the documents I used in the classroom quickly and efficiently. This marvelous tool paved the way to the writing and publication of my first book “Getting It Right in History Class”. And that publication led me to begin thinking about a writing career.
Bill Gates mentions the role played by personal computers as “… tools of creativity.” Actually, just about any artistic endeavor we can imagine can be created to some degree by software apps on our own computers or on Internet sites. I can write a book, hire someone online to edit the manuscript, create my own book cover, convert the finished product into the files that can be uploaded to produce an ebook, a paperback edition, or even a hardcover edition. From the first draft to finished product can be done on my computer, in addition to the self-publishing process via the Internet. For someone my age, this is nothing short of miraculous!
Thanks to personal computers and the Internet we can shop for goods (even our groceries!), manage our bank accounts and invest in the stock market. Millions of people worldwide depend on this tool for their business, commerce and banking, hobbies, and entertainment. As well, social media on the Internet allows us to make virtual friends and business associates and communicate easily and regularly. Social media is even playing a role in social change through organized protests and even revolutions.
Gates concludes by stating that these tools “…can be shaped by their user.” Not only can computer users apply software apps in different ways for their own purposes, but the hardware itself can be modified to perform in ways unique to the user.
The question that nags at me, is not whether or not we need personal computers, but rather, what would happen if the Internet went down? What if the power grid went down for a long period of time? I realize how dependent we are for all the reasons named above, but how dependent are we psychologically? To what extent do our computer and Internet dependencies harm our personal relationships and our societal relationships? Have we become electronic recluses? Now we can take our computer activities with us outside of the home by way of smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Are the benefits worth the costs of the drawbacks?
Have you ever watched a couple in a restaurant who aren’t talking to each other, but are busy texting or sending and receiving email on their phones? Is this just their addiction to their devices or do they have a serious problem in their relationship? How can I be truly present to my companion if I have my nose buried in my smartphone? The honest answer is, I cannot. The personal computer and all of our digital devices are technological blessings, but they are also truly a threat to our interpersonal relationships when we allow our usage of these devices to go unchecked.