We need technology. Does it need us?
When a surprise ice storm interrupted power this spring on Kenyon's campus, one sound resonated above all others: the cry of the computer-dependent college student. Without a daily dose of e-mail, "free" music, and Instant Messenger, this creature becomes easily confused, and begins a feverish hunt for 120-volt power.
Upon witnessing this amazing scenario firsthand, at times lending my own voice to the clamor, I became aware of the extent to which technology has interwoven itself with our culture. In the course of a college student's average day, an immense amount of time is devoted to the usage of calculators, CD players, color televisions, computers, cordless telephones, microwaves, and a myriad of other items. The dormitory rooms of our parents and grandparents would appear dull and lifeless to us, the members of the "technology generation," featuring such archaic objects as the abacus, record player, rotary phone, and typewriter.
In a mere two generations, we have lost the rudimentary ability to live without a functioning computer. Rather than leave my room and (God forbid) walk across the street to ask my Collegian editor a question, I send an e-mail from the comfort of the indoors, and patiently await an e-mailed reply.
Of course, I don't mean to badmouth technology entirely. I love sending an instant message to my little sister in Detroit, Michigan, while asking my friend in Cleveland, Ohio, a calculus question, and simultaneously making dinner plans with my classmate on the freshman quad. Never will I be forced to make the "long trek" down to the south end of campus to visit a colleague, only to discover that nobody's home. Nor will I ever have to rewrite my entire religion paper because I repeatedly misspelled "Bhagavad-Gita." I simply tap the keyboard, click the mouse, and sit back to enjoy the ride.
For me, the computer revolution came in a form that was big, beige, slow, and ugly when I was still in the early years of elementary school. The machine was an IBM 286-AT, with a 5.25-inch- floppy drive, a ludicrously small hard drive, a black and orange monochrome monitor, and a completely obsolete version of Microsoft's Disk Operating System (DOS). But to me, there was nothing like it in the world, because this machine was mine.
Call me nostalgic, but I credit everything I know about computers to this microprocessor-enhanced dinosaur. Many times my mother has commented that children have an almost magnetic affinity for computers. In my case, her theory holds true. With the help of my computer-literate mother, a handy MS-DOS guide, and a lot of spare time, I learned the intricacies of operating my delicate machine.
A few years later, I was able to drive a shinier car on the information superhighway. But things still weren't as easy as they are today. My new model was an Acer 386, with a ludicrously small and partitioned hard drive, a color monitor, and a slightly upgraded version of MS-DOS. From this point, my learning curve and dependency on computers took a sharp increase. No longer relegated to the realm of such basic programs as Professional Write, Print Shop, and a narrow selection of games, I could spread my wings and fly.
Armed with the training from my first computer, which died a horrible death when its irreplaceable battery expired, I was ready to move up to the computer major leagues. By the time I was in middle school, I had upgraded my little box with a copy of Windows 3.1, a 3.5-inch- floppy drive, and a modem. I filled it to the brim with games ranging from the ever popular Chip's Challenge and Pipe Dream to the more obscure Super Fly.
But how quickly we forget that which we relied upon, when something new comes along. When my parent's purchased a brand new E-Machines computer when I was in high school, with an MMX processor, CD-ROM drive, 56k modem, and then some, the Acer was shoved to the basement. My time suddenly revolved around such illustrious games as Need for Speed 2 and Sim City, while essay writing became less laborious with Microsoft Works.
And then, three weeks later, the Korean-manufactured facade collapsed, and the computer died. One year later, its warranty replacement died, accompanied by the smell of burning smoke. And then, during my spring break at Kenyon, it died again, no longer covered by any warranties. To make the long story of my experience with computers short, my parents purchased a new computer, nicer even than the one in my dorm room. But to be quite honest, I miss the IBM AT. I miss the challenge of fiddling with my system files. I miss MS-DOS!
These days, everything seems extremely simple, as if the computer could manage itself just fine if I was a thousand miles away. I set up my College network access in about ten minutes, followed by that of many students on my hall. I have no fear of listening to music, downloading shareware, and typing a massive English paper simultaneously.
The children who grow up after my generation will miss so much of the down-and-dirty computer experience. I can remember spending weeks coding my very first website by hand in HTML. That was a mere four years ago. Now I use Allaire Homesite to churn out pages in minutes for Kenyon's Office of Public Affairs. Six years ago, I can recall using complicated commands at the "C prompt" just to run a program in MS-DOS. Now, I move my hand, my hand moves the mouse, and the computer does all of the work. It makes me wonder; maybe technology doesn't need us after all.
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