Computers Shaping Society

People are glued to their computers in our society.

With the many technological advances of our society, there has been shifts in how our society functions. In Sherry Turkle’s book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, she discusses the power of “seduction” that computers seem to have over people.  I found that I could relate to this idea of “computer addiction” by just reading the first chapter of Turkle’s book.

As Turkle starts her first chapter, she compares the writing process of using present day computers to that of the more outdated method of using merely paper and pencil. This comparison reminded me of a thought I had a few years ago as I was in the process of editing a quite lengthy paper for some class that is irrelevant now. As I sat at my computer years ago, it occurred to me how people used to have to sit down and write out all their thoughts on paper, jotting down notes so that they could make edits and revisions in a later draft. The thought struck me so suddenly that I couldn’t help but take a break from writing and imagine myself writing out a first draft of my 15 page paper by hand, making revisions, and producing more of these lengthy drafts until I was content with my work. If the process was just as tedious today, I have to admit that I may not even attempt revisions and producing other drafts. After that 15 page paper, I think I really learned to appreciate how computers have made the whole writing process easier. Sure, I agree that computers have the power to suck us in for hours at a time while we are writing, but we have to take into account the time that people used to spend brainstorming and organizing their thoughts prior to writing on paper. When people wrote with paper and pencil, they couldn’t just jump in anywhere on the page and add in a thought that they left out, so they would have to take the time to plan out the structure and content of their papers before actually sitting down to write it. However, with computer software, people don’t feel the need to spend as much time planning because they can edit any part of their paper with just a few keystrokes. They don’t have to rewrite the entire paper, the words just shift to make room for what is added, and the writer can jump from writing one paragraph to another instead of being required to think in a linear fashion.

Microsoft Word Processor

I have also found that it is much easier to express myself as I type compared to when I write on paper. Turkle mentions that “computers can be extensions of the mind’s construction of thought,” and I most definitely agree. When I am typing, the words just flow out and I type as the words come to mind. On the other hand, I tend to write slower when I am writing on paper, so it takes more effort for me to focus on the words that I am writing, inhibiting my mind from formulating what I’m going to say next. Even more inhibiting is the fact that I used to have to think before jotting down each sentence when writing on paper, because writing an unnecessary sentence would cost me the time and effort to erase the words. In contrast, deleting on the computer takes only a second or two, all you have to do is select the text and hit delete. I no longer have to take the time to contemplate every sentence or word I scribble down, the words just flow as I type, and I can make any alterations to what I didn’t like after I get my thoughts down. So, while I agree that people have been spending more time being sucked into their computers, the computer has also made it easier for people to allow their thoughts to flow by acting as an extension of the mind.

Now, people often take advantage of the capabilities computers provide us. For example, in reference to the whole writing software that come with our computers, we know that the labeled keys on our keyboard correspond with letters that appear on your screen when we press them, but how does it all work? Many of us use our computers everyday, but we don’t know how the parts are connected and how letters just miraculously appear when we hit the keys. According to Turkle, the Macintosh computers were a new way of using computers and actually encouraged its users to have a simple surface interaction without understanding the underlying mechanisms. Thus, the users are just provided with attractive simulations and icons on the screen so that usage to programs were more organized, but the user is unaware of the inner mechanisms of how the programs worked. This type of Macintosh interface is pretty much how our computers today are. We are presented with a desktop and icons that are labeled, but all we know is that clicking on the icon will start the program it is intended to start; we are completely ignorant to how clicking a little picture makes a program run. This type of human-computer interaction leads to a question of whether users really need to understand how the computer actually functions. Without understanding how a computer works, people are more reliant on others that have that knowledge to assist them. But is it even possible for everyone to learn all there is to know about computers, and is there even a need for it? Everyone owns a car, but not all car owners know exactly how a car functions either. So should all computer users be held responsible for understanding computers? In my opinion, the human-computer interface was intended to make computer usage easier for people so that they wouldn’t have to know as much about the underlying mechanisms. The computer serves as a tool to make our lives easier, and it would defeat the purpose of having this tool if people are required to have a full understanding of how it works.