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As Turkle starts her first chapter, she compares the writing process of using present day computers to that of the more outdated method of using merely paper and pencil.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.

4 thoughts on “Computers Shaping Society”

  1. Yo, Inez. While this is a great response, I think you also have to answer the questions that Professor Nicholas put in our announcements. It’s 3 questions.

    Addressing your response, I do agree that while we are spending more time at the computer, it is more efficient in the process of translating our thoughts onto a digital file. When we would write on a piece of paper, it would usually have to be the final draft otherwise, due to all the revisions and the eraser marks, the paper would look messy. While microsoft word would be more efficient in the PROCESS of writing a paper, realistically, we have to acknowledge that it is very hard to stay focused on writing a 15 page paper from start to final draft due to the multi-media nature of the computer and the abundant distractions that it offers. I think that used correctly, MW word is definitely the better choice but its additional distractions/applications at our fingertips also distract us from accomplishing what needs to be done.

    In regards to your Turkle response, while the macintosh human-computer interface gives people an easier tool to use for their intended purposes, it does make them rely on others. However, I feel like the average users are quite inept at even the basic functions of the computer. So if everybody knew the fundamental workings of the computer, everything would become more efficient. These information could easily be taught during early secondary education. Using your car analogy, while it’s unnecessary for everybody to know all of their inner workings of the car, it would helpful for themselves to know how to put a spare tire in case of a tire blowout.

  2. Inez, I definitely can relate to when you talked about how you realized how computers made writing so much easier. Similar to your 15 page paper, I also had to do a research paper. In the beginning, my laptop was being fixed so I had to hand write my paper and go to library to look up information I could have otherwise found online. First the few days doing this, I had very little work done. However, right after my laptop was fixed, I managed to finish researching my topic and writing my paper within a span of a couple days. Through this experience, I also began to realize the importance, benefits, and “seduction” of computers.

  3. I really do agree that computers make everything so much easier. I also had a revelation of the same sort a few years ago while I was writing papers. It was just so hard for me to fathom this. I remember in elementary school when our teachers would make us practice for the writing test, and how tedious that would be. I used to hate writing for practice, too, and now that I have the luxury of using my laptop to type, it’s much easier for me to type. Now I actually sometimes want to write and type things out, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do so years ago, especially from how much my hand hurt from writing when I was writing for more than a few pages for elementary school.

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