Autobiography of a computer user

Colouring in circles on cardboard cards to make a logical sequence to be read by a massive computer sums up my introduction to computers.  I didn’t understand what the greater purpose was or what Wat V Fortran meant exactly, outside of it being a computer language developed by the University of Waterloo in Kitchener, Ontario but it was the content taught in grade 11 computer class.

After pouring over sheets of dot matrix printout looking for an error, I thought my frustrations had ended when my father purchased our first home computer.  It consisted of a monitor with orange characters on a black screen measuring approximately 12-14 inches.   The software was Word Perfect 4.2 or thereabouts and the printer hooked up to the CPU was dot matrix.  I remember thinking how progressive my father was to have purchased all of this.   I logged many hours on this machine doing university essays and to have to work on someone else’s computer sparked fear.    didn’t know enough about machine compatibility and whether my 5¼ inch floppy disk could be read by another computer.  When we got another CPU with a 3½ inch floppy drive, I again thought that we had “arrived.”   I should add that everything was DOS prompt and Windows was again, another foreign concept.

I recall after getting married  that our upgraded computer needed to have a CD Rom drive as well as the 3 1/2  floppy drive.  While our home computer was a brand I’d never heard of, my husband was assigned an HP laptop for his job.  Now that was progressive!  It was large and heavy and I had no idea how to operate it let alone ever imagining owning one.  Well, here we are today, each member of the family has a laptop, our old desk top has a flat screen monitor with 2 CD/DVD drives, SD card reader and several USB ports.  The very fact that I know what the bits and pieces are called and know, more or less, what they do, says something about my growth as a computer user.

Knowledge of the Internet is another matter altogether.  When the World Wide Web was all the buzz, apart from watching others navigate it, I had no idea how it would be relevant to me or why I should understand it.  It was “out there.”  Email was also foreign to me and I can only remember sending email from about 1994 onward.  I don’t recall how we used the Internet at home in those early days – I had tiny children to look after so exploring that world was not a priority.

Communicating online didn’t happen until about four years ago when I had to manage and update our library web page.  Blogging was something other people did who had important things to say to the world.   I’m still reluctant to put ideas “out there” but will take my fear by the horns and try.  Working with these tools in our U of A courses and in our school is a whole new learning experience but I can see the potential when kids are excited to work in these online environments.

Reading newspapers and magazines online is something I do on a small scale.  I very much enjoy getting the paper from the doorstep each morning and scanning the headlines as I drink my coffee.   Periodically, I search CBC, CTV or newspaper sites from back home if I’m looking for something specific.  While we subscribe to Maclean’s and Runners World, we receive emails from both with articles that can be read online.  I enjoy a magazine and paper when I have a moment to sit down but will check out links and other bits they send when I’m on the computer.  I’m not ready to make the transition to e-reading exclusively.  I haven’t read an ebook yet either.  Our public library has a small collection now available to patrons but until recently, I didn’t have a platform to access them.  I’m hoping with a new iPod that I’ll be able to do that.

Having been introduced to tools like Diigo and RefWorks this summer, I’m trying to read articles online more, and print less.  Since I can save links and documents to Diigo, I don’t feel the same need to always have a paper copy.  I still print a fair number of articles but these sorts of changes in habits take time.

I browse online more than I shop though what I do buy is mostly books.  We live in a small city that doesn’t have a sizable bookstore where we can get a coffee and browse to our hearts content on a Sunday afternoon.   I like to “window shop” for yoga wear and clothes in general, especially from retailers that haven’t (and will never) set up shop here.  My kids are great online explorers and find all sorts of sports equipment and groovy furniture that they absolutely “can’t live without.”

From a general life management point of view, I can’t imagine not being able to do banking, search phone numbers and postal codes, book flights and look up gym schedules.  I rely on the facility of accessing school email, as do our kids.  They access homework, download it, complete it and upload it again.  It’s fantastic!  Even more marvelous is being able to do all of this anytime of the day.   I pay bills at 11 PM, do course work until the wee hours, and contact my husband when he is in a time zone 14 hours ahead.   We Skype, text, and email far more than we talk on the phone.  He loves to get messages from the kids and see them when he Skypes.  It’s become such an important connection!

With family so far away and parents getting older, getting home whenever we can is critical.  If I book flights using points, I simply log in, check schedules, select flights and pay the taxes and fees with a credit card.  It’s remarkably easy and safe.  The last time I phoned an agent to make a booking, she told me there would be a $30 charge per person to make the reservations with her!  Imagine!  A charge to talk to real person!

Discussing listening and viewing with a computer, I think of podcasts, You Tube and other multi-media functions.  I enjoy listening to podcasts because they connect you to the speaker in a way that text can’t; You tube opens the door to the world and entertains and informs at the click of the mouse.  Streaming radio is also another feature I love with iTunes because it takes you beyond the barriers of your immediate circumstances offering choices from around the world.

My husband still works on a rather sophisticated laptop, designing, communicating and collaborating.  Our kids are avid users in ways I’ve mentioned earlier.  Our daughter connects with friends on Face Book, our son likes to play games and is, at the moment, finding clues that accompany the series, 39 Clues.  He uses email and does school work.  They think nothing of exploring whatever interests them.  They have yet to use Web 2.0 tools in school but I’m hoping they’ll get the chance soon.

In my workday, I use a computer regularly though not always in ways that I use it at home.  When I login at school in the morning, I open our circulation program, my email and any other sites that I may need throughout the day.  When I buy resources for the library, I have a variety of sites, from the library supplier I use, to reviews, to Amazon or Chapters for further information and bibliographic details.  If I’m using the Smart Board, I have Smart Notebook open as well to access my files.  Could I do my job without my computer?  Not all of it.  When our computers have gone down, I’ve shifted my focus to our collection and read to students (which I love to do anyways) or had them explore resources.  We can do many things without technology but we can’t search for materials in our library or our public library; all catalogues are online.

Our public library has a great site, which is always being improved and expanded.  I often search and place holds and teach our students how to do the same.  We have access to several libraries that are part of a regional consortium as well as access to the Alberta Library online.  Our librarians are excellent at helping find resources and getting them to the patron.  I have benefited from their expertise in the past and know that I will again in the near future.

Thinking back to our first cell phone, I have to share that on a recent episode of  “Cake Boss” when Buddy was making an 80’s cake, he included a cell phone roughly the size of a brick with a tiny key pad in the centre and a big antennae on the top.  That was our first cell phone!  We gradually moved to smaller models, flip Motorola’s and finally Blackberry’s, which my husband and I thought we could never be without.  Both of our kids have cell phones that they use mostly for texting and are proving to be very handy with our hectic schedules.

Web 2.0 tools are still very new to me but I’m excited to learn more about them.  The social bookmarking sites we explored in the summer are changing the way I manage information and do research.   While I’m not on Facebook, I am on Twitter and follow several people who are experts in libraries and digital citizenship.  One of the handiest management tools I learned about in the summer was Google Reader, which completely changed the way I looked at following blogs.  Before Reader, I had no idea how I would keep up!  I’ve also begun learning and collaborating using Edmodo at school and am very excited to see how the students learn with it.  I’ve also had the opportunity to collaborate with our district technology leadership coordinator who has been a wealth of information and connected me to other teachers in our district who incorporate technology in their instruction.    I still have a long way to go but jumping in with both feet is the only way to start.

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2 Responses to Autobiography of a computer user

  1. acrogers says:

    Thank you for your post, Jennifer. I will put those thoughts together and get them on the blog.


  2. acrogers says:

    Shelly, I love your analogy. I think I’m on the towel next to you : )


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