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Computers have pervaded human society in a way never seen before. This was not always the case. In fact, there was a time when computers were a figment of man’s imagination. Starting in the modern age people wanted to build a machine that can handle immense mathematical calculations but for centuries the idea remained a dream.
But in the modern age scientists and engineers began to have access to technology that allowed them to develop the first computer and the rest was history. In the 21st century computers continue to pervade everyday life. It is no longer limited to office work because computers also pervaded the home, supermarkets, transportation hubs and other public places. However, it must be made clear if someday computers no longer provide assistance and becomes a bane to human existence.
In the past scientists and mathematicians had to be contented with pen and paper in performing their calculations. Needless to say this was a laborious process. This crude method of recording and analyzing data was time consuming and it places considerable limitations on their achievements.
However, different types of technologies were developed and machines were invented that at first glance are not complimentary but looking at the greater scheme of things was a build-up to the creation of the personal computer.
It can be argued that with the invention of the printing press also comes the explosion of knowledge as information can be shared much faster and disseminated over a broader area as opposed to hand-written communication. In the past handwritten notes and the manual creation of books is the only way to spread knowledge in addition to oral history and other verbal forms of communication.
Another consequence of the printing press is the ability to mass produce information and made available at a shorter rate of time. The indirect by-product of the printing press is the typewriter.
The printing press may have been an important contribution to the development of computers but without the ability to harness and control electrical power it is impossible to even begin to imagine the possibility of creating a compact and fast-computing machine.
Electricity paved the way for the electronics industry. The electronics industry made it possible for the creation of computer monitors, electric typewriters and eventually the keyboard. All of these made possible the creation of a powerful computing device that can be operated in the home. When somebody found a way to connect computers globally the ability to interact and to do business was forever transformed in the most radical way (Waters, p.5).
The discovery of a particular knowledge that leads to invention and later on to innovation can take a very long time depending on the needs of people and depending on the availability of technology. But one thing is certain, scientists, engineers and inventors did not start from scratch (Gladwell, p.50).
Each inventor and innovator owes a certain degree of gratitude to those that came before them. Thomas Edison may have perfected the light bulb but he too was standing on the shoulders of giants. This phenomenon was described in detail by sociologists who wrote: “new inventions can be adequately explained by reference to the state of prior knowledge, because every new invention grows out of existing knowledge, whether that knowledge be scientific, technological, or otherwise” (Schmookler, p.195). In the case of personal computers the evolution took a long time to complete because aside from what can be seen from the outside there is an invisible component called the software.
A computer is simply a box of wires without the presence of effective and efficient software. The most important is the core software which is also known as an operating system or OS. The OS of a computer is a set of instructions communicating directly to the hardware of the computer and this enable it to process information given to it.
The most common source of information is the data that is encoded by typing into the keyboard. In the past this is a slow process and computers had a basic system that only a computer scientist or a programmer can understand the processes that was going on.
An untrained person can only see a series of numbers and complex mathematical formula in the monitor and nothing more. But today’s computers had evolved into something that uses a user interface. In simple words there is mechanism or a software that is the conduit between user and machine.
An average person need not know the complex mathematical process that is required for the computer to draw a line on the screen. The only thing that he needed to know is that by using the “mouse” and the keyboard he or she can draw that line on the monitor screen.
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A basic computer set-up requires the combine work of two types of software. The first is the aforementioned Operating System or OS and the second one is application software such as computer games, drawing, and office software such as Microsoft Word for word processing, Mozilla Firefox for web browsing. In the case of the OS there are at least three major groups of operating systems available in today and this includes: a) Apple OS X; b) Linux); and c) Microsoft Windows. The last one is well known all over the world because of its accessibility and user friendly features. In other words, it does not require a computer scientist to use it.
Over the years operating systems are constantly being upgraded to keep up with the increasing demand for more computing power. In the same way computer hardware has to be upgraded as well. As a result more sophisticated software applications are made available in the market. These software applications are redefining what computers mean to mankind. Is it still a blessing or rapidly becoming a curse?
Pervading Home, Office, and Public Spaces
Not a long time ago man was resigned to the fact that computers are here to stay. It is already an accepted fact of life that computers are indispensable tools when it comes to the office and various industries. A short while later computer invaded the homes (Anderson, Felici & Littlewood, p.10). But innovation did not end with products that can be used in both home and office. There are innovative products being developed and deployed in public places.
A good example is digital technology that can be installed in transportation hubs to deliver advertising content to the general public. If this is not enough a new generation of computers is flooding the market and this type is characterised by the combination of sophisticated hardware and software that can observe and record human activity.
In the academic community people are asking if computers can actually help in man’s pursuit for happiness or if this technology is driving man to a deeper level of isolation, stress, and confusion. There seems to be no middle ground. Computers of different forms and functionality has invaded every aspect of human life and there comes a time when dependability on computers can severely affect the beauty and spontaneity of human interaction.
I can still remember the old typewriter that I saw in the attic. It was gathering dust in a corner but my parents refuse to throw it away. I immediately understand the sentimental value of the said equipment. The first time I saw it I was curious as to the purpose of the keyboard-like device that instead of a monitor to display the words it uses slender metallic arms to produce words. My curiosity led me to badger my mother until finally she could not take it anymore and began to provide a short explanation of the significance of typewriters. And I could not believe what I was hearing.
It is amusing and at the same time fascinating to know the crude technology used in typewriters. I can compare it to striking rocks to produce fire. This time around the pounding action is between metal and carbon paper.
As the force of the metal type-face forces itself into the soft carbon, the dark material from the carbon is imprinted into the paper underneath. As the typist pounds into the typewriter more words are produced, and finally sentences are made. It is without a doubt a tiresome process.
I have a difficult time imagining how the older generation contended with this labor-intensive way of producing documents. I wonder what happens if they make a mistake in typing. My pinkie finger instinctively reaches out to the delete button as I envision the error appearing before.
But it seems that there is no other way to solve that problem. Obviously a typewriter does not have this feature and so I imagine that they use some kind of an eraser for that purpose.
It is truly a wonderful thing that computers were invented. It is easier to type away in a laptop whatever documentation is required. Office and school work becomes a less daunting experience. The thought process of writing a novel or a business letter is as difficult as it was in the pre-computer era but at least the time required to delete or to retype is much shorter.
In addition, there is sometimes the need to rearrange the information contained in the said document because of some errors in the writing process. Nevertheless, this type of problems has become the thing of the past.
However, it must be made clear that the evolution of computers especially software applications was a slow process. Microsoft did not become a commercial success overnight.
There were a series of software applications that had to be tested in the market. I remember some of the software applications that were made available in the past and some were just cumbersome to use. There were a host of different bugs or errors in the programming. In comparison to a typewriter there is a need to know a basic set of skills and then after years of using a typewriter that typist becomes so adept with it that both hands and the equipment seems to be transformed into one seamless machine.
The same thing cannot be said of computers and software applications. Surely a basic set of skills of needed for it to work but the problem is in the rapid changes in the software and even to some extent the hardware. There was a time when computer users had to contend with the need to buy manuals every time an upgrade was released. It was a frustrating to be always pressured to learn something new.
Impact to human existence
Nevertheless, people began to appreciate the importance of computers. As the old generation of typewriter users were replaced with keyboard thumping young men and women. A whole new group of people emerged that validated the significance of this new technology. It can be argued that the change could not be contained with the mere ability to produce documents.
The next big thing came as an indirect result of computer development is in the area of telecommunication and the networking of computers. These two innovations changed the world in a way that could never have been anticipated by even the most astute analyst of the past century.
This is in accordance to a theory advanced by analysts who argued that, “The technology existing at a given point in time sets limits on how much can be produced with a given amount of inputs” (Mansfield, p.12). There is therefore greater impetus from researchers and scientists to push back the limitations given by present technology. This can be achieved through timely scientific breakthroughs.
The rapid changes in computer technology paved the way for the creation of mobile phones. At the heart of a mobile phone is a miniaturized computer that can receive and make calls. But the added innovation is the creation of a network of communication towers that allowed a caller to be mobile and yet continue to have an interrupted connection with the person on the other line.
This technology used to be limited to government officials and to the military. But when it was made available to the general public human-to-human interaction changed. I can still remember how mobile phones changed the way people interact but more importantly how businesses were revolutionized. The speed and ease of communication allowed businessmen to expand not only to the next state but around the world.
It is difficult to understand the emergence of a global network of businesses without the capability to call anytime and anywhere. In the past the caller has to go to a designated phone booth and in some cases had to ask the assistance of an operator to be able to call overseas. Those days belong to history.
However, it must also be pointed out that without the creation of the Internet globalization is limited to a few international companies that can afford to move products and services all over the planet. The Internet created a level playing field for everyone.
It highlighted what theorists call the knowledge-based economy (Carter, p.61). Information about a product is no longer difficult to disseminate all over the world. With the click of a mouse button or the creation of a website a small company in the middle of nowhere can announce its presence through the World-Wide-Web and amazingly people as far as Russia and New Zealand can place orders.
It has been predicted that computing power and processing speed within computers is about to be increased in a level that seems mind-boggling. Consider the implications of this kind of improvement. An innovation is just around the corner, the kind of innovation that can bring this invention into another level (Gelb, p.7). There will be new products and services that can even transform the way people do business, access entertainment services, and communicate to each other.
There will come a time when computers are no longer limited to the office, home, and public spaces. There will come a time when computers are about to invade the human body. There is talk about microprocessors and nanotechnology that can further miniaturize technology to the point that it can be embedded to a human body without adverse effects.
In other words technology is not only worn but technology can become a part of the human body. This can enhance life or become so obtrusive to the point that it violates the principles of privacy. It can probably increase life expectancy but at what cost?
The need for speedier transactions does not really save time because so much work was generated by the use of this technology. A system that provides a quick response does not increase the time that each person is entitled to everyday; what it does is that it forces people to do more. The company is expected to do more because communication is at a speed that has gone beyond expectations.
The rapid acceleration in the innovation of computers has left many in awe. The problem right now is to find a way to measure its impact especially when it comes to children. Without a doubt computers is an integral tool in the search for knowledge and it can help people enhance their capabilities.
Think for instance of healthcare and the absence of computers in this field of human endeavour is something that is undesirable. Doctors and health workers will react in horror if they are not given the chance to be able to use computers.
On the other hand there are those who contend that computers must be regulated because it can easily contribute harm rather than good. The availability of PC games is one contentious issue. When it comes to violence in video games there are parents and government officials are saying that this must be banned. Others disagree and the debate rages on.
Aside from issue of violence computers are also considered a problem area when it comes to the emergence of cybercrimes. Consider the capability of an individual to steal money without having to risk exposure by going to the bank.
This new way of robbing people blind can also be considered as an innovation. But this is the negative form of innovation. It is therefore easy to understand why there are those who are not fully convinced that computers are indeed a blessing to society.
However, it is hypocritical for those people to say that they did not benefit from the rapid evolution and diffusion of computers. The ease in banking and other business transactions is a good example of the benefits of computers. The ease in communication is another aspect of the radical change in technology that started in the modern age. The ability to communicate to someone halfway around the world is something that must be viewed with gratitude and not with cynicism.
The radical change in technology must be considered as both a blessing and a problem that is difficult to understand. The difference in perspective is the reason why there are those who continually oppose the deployment of technology that they believed can harm their children and the people that they love.
But looking at the innovations made in the past centuries should change the opinion of many in favor of those who believe that technology especially computer technology is a gift to mankind. Consider the typewriter and the computer. No one in their right mind will say that they prefer typewriters to personal computers.
The old technology is cumbersome to use and it places a great degree of limitations on the user. Computer technology on the other hand speeds up the work process and as a result more work can be accomplished. This does not mean that policy makers should not continue to take a closer look at the development of new technology. Everyone should have an open mind.
Anderson, Stuart, Masssimo Felici and Beverley Littlewood. Computer Safety, Reliability, and Security. London: Springer, 2002.
Carter, A. 1996. “Measuring the Performance of the Knowledge-Based Economy.” Employment and Growth in the Knowledge-Based Economy. Ed. D. Foray and B.A. Lundvall. Paris: OECD, 1996. 61-68. Print.
Gelb, Michael. Innovate Like Edison. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.
Mansfield, Edwin. Technological Change. New York: Norton Publishing, 1971.
Schmookler, Jacob. “Changes in Industry and in the State of Knowledge as Determinants of Industrial Invention.” The Rate and Direction of Activity. Ed. R. Nelson. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961. 195-216. Print.
Waters, Malcolm. Globalization. New York: Routledge, 2001.