Some encouraging words for the computer frustrated

Do you ever get frustrated with your computer?

The other day a friend called saying that something had gone wrong and he felt so dumb. This is a typical reaction of those of us who haven't grown up with computers.

Most of us thought computers would make life easier. They would be fun and, using the Internet, would connect us to the brave new world. They haven't, have they? They are perverse. As soon as we thought we understood how to do something, it stopped working. The mouse would stop in the middle of the screen and nothing we could do would make it move again. Sometimes we would try to start a new program and a little screen would appear telling us we have committed an "illegal" operation. What nonsense.

Computers are supposed to be user friendly and they aren't. What other device requires you to hit the "start" button to stop? And this is only one of the many idiosyncrasies.

How did this come about? Computers first were developed to do complex mathematical calculations. They helped compute the trajectories of guns and now help design automobiles and airplanes. Nothing works better or faster for these tasks.

Then the computer moved into offices where people typed letters and entered personnel and other business data. They moved from being operated by nerds to office workers. People and corporations became used to spending hours and thousands of dollars in training to use these new devices.

Then came the Internet and hundreds of thousands of us mere mortals bought computers with the expectation that we could use, if not master them. It hasn't happened.

It is easy to blame Microsoft and the other software companies for turning out complex and "buggy" programs. But they gave us wonderful programs that were so rich in features that they could do anything we would ever want, and then some. However, their very complexity caused problems.

I have heard that Microsoft Windows 98 contains nearly 20 million lines of computer code. A mind numbing number. This equates to 500 programmers working a thousand days. And these are nerds, not ordinary people. So even though Windows is an amazing program, we still need to hit "start" to stop and we still perform "illegal" operations.

So none of us really should feel dumb. We just are caught between the world of the nerds and the real folks. For the time being we are stuck in a time warp that requires us to learn a whole new language just to get our favorite programs to work. But hopefully this world is changing.

Possibly the people who see this change most clearly are at AOL/Time-Warner. I imagine they picture us sitting in front of our TV sets with a keyboard in our lap and a "web-TV" box on top of our television set. Our TV would connect to the web with the touch of a button. We would send email from our easy chairs. If something stopped working, some "nerd in the sky" would fix it, not us.

When this happens, computers as we know them will be replaced by specialized "appliances." It will be as easy to go on the Internet as it is to use your refrigerator. No more waiting for Windows to start and double clicking on one thing and single clicking on something else. And no more slow dialup connections. We'll be on cable-Internet or DSL. It really may be a brave new world.

What do we do in the meantime? We take classes and try to master as much as we can. But most of all we should recognize that, regardless of our age or background, we can learn our way around enough of this new technology to make it work for us. None of us should feel dumb.

I know my daughter would disagree with all of this. She would say that we still could write using pencil and paper and play games with our family and friends. We don't need to sit in front of a computer. But would that really be all that much fun? By the way, my daughter and her husband have two computers in their home.

So keep your neurons happy and synapses snapping and keep working at computing. It is a brave new world.

 _____________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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