Sunday, July 25, 2004

My Life As A Technology Rebel

In 1987 I was facing a decision to become a student pastor at a country church or re-enlist in the U.S. Army. The decision was very tough since I really wanted to become a pastor, and still do, but I just felt led of God away from that particular ministry. So I re-enlisted, not knowing just exactly what to do. The Army gave me a little bonus money for that decision. Sort of a consolation prize to myself I decided to buy a computer with that money. I had been using an Apple II at the library. I did some research and asked around about what type of computer was best for education. The answer resoundingly was Apple. I was also taking a course on computing for my degree program. It was an introduction to computing. It was a computer course on the computer. There was a lab assistant there who ran the place. When he was not watching the computer lab, he taught computers. Everything pointed to the type of computer that I wanted was an Apple. This decision started me down that path. I did not know it at the time, I was becoming a computing rebel.

In the next few years, people would be buy computers like crazy and most of them would be asking a different question than I was. I was asking about the best design for a particular job. They were asking, what do I know already about computing. Come to think of it, one of the first computers I ever worked on at my job was an Apple. It was my introduction to this feild which has become so much a part of my life. So I went to my local post exchange (PX) and bought my first Apple II GS. I kept it running for much longer than I should have. My experince with computers was much different than the typical computer owner in the late 1980's, early 1990's. While everyone else was learning DOS and later Windows, I was learning how to program in BASIC and trying to figure out why I had fewer software choices than my Windows counterparts. I went to Apple User Groups a few times and bought a lot of magazines on Apple II. I really did not understand why everyone was attracted to computers which were built for business and less for home use. It seemed to me at the time that the market driving forces were simply wrong. Buy a computer built for your needs. However, I think computer education was driven for most user by their work environment. The key factor was not design and features, but how comfortable people felt about a system. They used computers at work and those are the systems they knew something about. If they had a problem at home, they could ask somebody at work about the issue. Instead of going to a user group, the water cooler became the de fato user group in the work place. Eventually all my friends were talking about reloading their system over and over again all the while I was espousing the philosophical merits of my system. My bottom line, pick the best designed system. The herd's bottom line, don't leave the herd, its safer that way. When I was not using a Apple II GS at home, I was often using a Unix system at work. Eventually I wanted to keep purchasing newer software and little was being made for the Apple II. So I decided to buy a new system. My friends who were having trouble with thier Windows 3.1 machines, I decided to buy an Apple Mac. It was a great machine. That is about the same time bulletin boards were maxing out their usefulness and ISP's were taking that nitche market. On-line communications were new and clunky. That is when people started sending me attachments. MS Word documents meant that I would spend a whole lot of time down-loading a friend's e-mail just to find out it was a Word document which would not be readable by my Claris Works word processor. That is when I became an advocate of cross plateform portability. Again I was stumbling onto technology that I liked but everyone else was doing something just a little different. My adoption of Windows into my home came in the form of a gift to my daughters. One of their relatives decided that he could give them his old machine. That was only the first step. The second step was a gift of a digital camera. There was a Windows machine in my home and a camera that would not work with it. In order to allow my daughter to use their camera, after a lot of frustration, I bought a Windows XP machine. It really is a good machine and I don't have crashes or other plagues that bothered it's ancestors. I no longer have any Apple machines running my home. I think their still cool so don't worry. But Window has finally won in a sense, but I just had to build a Linux machine so that I have not "given in to the dark side".

Things I have learned or values I have gained by my unorthodox journey.

1. Technology really stands on training and social relationships. The best tool is not always the one adopted.

2. The early adapters of a technology learn a lot more than those who wait, but then they become vested agents of the technology. Sort of like that unofficial Wendys guy.

3. At a certain point, to maintain your technology outside the mainstream is painful. Some say that when 15% of the work force adopts a technology, like say broadband, others almost forced to follow. If they don't, the cost of not having the tool become painful to the non-adopter.

4. Technology gave promises of enhancing education. This is really still being worked out. Technology used to attempt to be a nice tool for drill. But drilling on a subject one has not knowledge of is pretty useless. Simulations are expensive to create. The real value of computers to education is that they are good for research and producing papers, graphics, presentations and other media.
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