I have been a professional engineer, and I think a good one, for 60 years —more if you consider that I worked as one while in college —and have had a ton of education and experience, in industry, as a consultant, and as a professor. I also have spent some 55 years around computers, beginning with big mainframes and going through all the amazing developments to the present. But I am a user, and definitely not a computer expert. In fact, when I began, engineers did not solve their own problems on a computer. Rather we would take our problems to computer programmers, who would feed them into the machine and bring us our results. We after all, could not speak machine language, and therefore did not qualify to interact with these huge machines looming over us from their daises in their windowed white rooms.
I had a wonderful time with computers when so-called personal computers came along, and spent much of my life working with them, using the internet, and generally putting up with their foibles. But in the last few years, something has happened. I have been a long time Apple fan until recently, but now I no longer think it is fun to constantly screw around with their “upgraded” software, nor accept their thinly veiled attempts to totally control my hardware or software. Of course, they are not unique. I am tired of the messages that constantly appear on my screen enticing me to go all Google. Nor do I want to be on Microsoft’s cloud, or any others. Their clouds, after all, are huge servers panting away in giant, hot buildings and sucking electricity from the net in huge quantities. Nothing “cloudy” about them.
But such is not the case with my grandkids or the college students who surround me. They seem to revel in endless new apps, “upgraded” operating systems, and new digital gadgets that don’t seem to me to be that improved over the old ones. I am afraid that after fighting it all of my life, I must admit to a less flexible brain and an unwillingness (inability?) to keep up with digital technology. I had a rude example of that yesterday, when while working with my computer, it began misbehaving. I first noticed that when I downloaded my mail, it was inserting and then withdrawing duplicates of many messages, while making a strange noise. The cursor was also flickering, and it was trying to fill out the password boxes when I tried to open web sites.
Being knowledgeable, I rebooted it, but it became worse rather than better, and after a few trials it would not even accept my system password. After unplugging it from the wall and plugging it in again, and cursing at it with increasing vigor, it finally opened without any password and showed me the screen one sees on a new computer. At this point I panicked, because obviously either the machine had failed (not unusual in these days of disposable products) or someone had hit me with a horrible hack which not only had recorded everything on my computer, but had then destroyed what had been there. (I was backed up, but it seemed like a horrible enough hack could wipe that out also.)
The next day was a Sunday and I did not want to bother my favorite IT guy on a weekend, so I was telling a person who had been a student of mine, and is quite a bit younger than I, my strange set of what seemed unrelated problems, and he said “Oh, try another keyboard”. I laughed. Then I did try another keyboard and my computer came purring back to life. How could this be? To check I told my problems to another person, this one a graduate student, and he said the same thing, as did one of my grandchildren. So I went home and thought about it for a while, and of course, a stuck key could make the strange sound, make the mail messages and cursor hiccup , and definitely fill password boxes with dots that I could not do anything about. But how could these younger squirts instantly figure that out and I did not? This was an isolated case, but not the first.
Yep, age. You know that, and I know that, but somehow it is difficult for someone like me to admit that I am not keeping up with the game. I read an entertaining interview of a man who was well over 100 years ago some ago. He was bed-ridden, and at one point the interviewer pointed out to him how fortunate he was that computers allowed him to interact with the world and learn whatever he wanted through the internet. He replied that he didn’t know how to use computers. The interviewer, caught off guard, asked him why. His reply was that when he had turned 80 he decided that he had learned enough and he just wanted to use what he knew, so no way was he going to learn to use all this new silly stuff.
Maybe there is some of that in all of us, but it is hard to admit for a long-term professor.