Are you happy with your main work tool, or do you feel that it rules you more often than the opposite? I am not too fond of my computer, and even if it can do a lot of things for me, I think it is rather difficult to find a tidy place for it in my head.
What do you expect when you open your laptop every morning? Or rather, what did you expect the first time you did?
What meets the eye is text, and I think I still expect, intuitively, the same things to happen as when I open a book. My whole system was designed for and adjusted to the world of books and newspapers. Today, naturally, I spend a lot of time gathering information via my personal computer, less with books than I used to. But there are many of the ways of computers that create problems for me rather than solve them.
How does a book work?
There are not many practical problems connected with it, after you’ve learned as a kid to turn the pages, to read, and later on to search for information in the world of books and newspapers. You take down the book from the shelf, you open it, you read. What you’re after is what’s inside, you don’t really think of the practicalities connected with reading after you’ve left first grade or so.
A computer is organized more or less upside down. There are thousands of different ways of doing what I have just described: To search for and organize information. And they all change and multiply every time the programmers and designers get new ideas, which means, of course, all the time. Their creative forces deal with practical matters, and if practical problems are not your priority this morning, it can be pretty annoying to encounter another app, another website, another new construction that you can’t see. I am not really interested in new ways of gathering information, I’m usually looking for the information itself. If I could find it the same way or at the same place every time, I would probably do so, and not waste my energy on how to find it.
Of course you can fill the computer with all the stuff that used to be in books, but the mass of different ways of handling the information easily leads you into confusion or fatigue.
When I think, I usually think about the world, what it is like, how it works or doesn’t work. I consider things from this side or the other, discussions with others go on for quite a while, and conclusions are not always easily available or completely stable.
A machine doesn’t work like that. In many ways we enter a world of action when we turn on a computer, even if we feel we’re going into a world of information. Either you do it, or you don’t, you push the button or you leave it, the picture is there or it’s gone, on and off, this is the soul of the machine, all the way down to the 0’s and 1’s that are the foundation of the whole system.
Unclear or unfinished things have difficulties in this way of dealing with reality. The conclusions have to come quickly, the system feeds on results, you can say, and you are always supposed to go on to something else. The whole thing invites quick actions, more than slow pondering upon quirky things.
The same thing is also supposed to happen every time you hit the same key or give the same command to the machine, this is not supposed to change. Even if they in fact do give you a lot of surprises, computers are not really meant to, they are supposed to be basically as predictable as coffee grinders or food processors.
The parallel in the digital world to my own thinking is of course not the machine itself, but the practical thinking, the engineering, that made it. But the engineering has made what is conceived by my brain basically as a piece of paper, into a kind of machine, or rather, part of it, an extended dashboard, control panel, whatever, but still in many ways the thing acts like a piece of paper, too. You can actually write on it.
There are, of course, many ways of searching for information in books, too, but they don’t employ any technical means like the search engines that surround us everywhere. All the old methods were very simple, not constructions in solder, wires, transistors and countless other electrical components.
A computer is maybe not that different from a machine based on mechanics. But one of the differences is that the “old” machines deal with something concrete, tangible – soil, food, trees, cement, while the computer itself handles words, pictures, music, abstractions of all kinds – products of the mind, not of the hand or the earth.
It does not really know anything, but can do a lot. But my old-fashioned mind is, as I said, designed to feed on “theoretical” information, not instructions for what to do about it. I get confused – if I don’t know this. Using an electronic gadget can be compared to entering a vast control room with thousands of handles and buttons. And you move pretty much in darkness, because the compilation of instructions is too big for anyone to have a complete overview. My head is still mostly calibrated to a world of bookshelves, with its simple mechanics.
Using a computer is also like having a lot of secretaries and other helpers who do different practical jobs for you. The persons you actually meet inside the computer are the men and women who made the different programs and applications. You live with their creativity, systematic abilities and their habits, good and bad, every day.
So is the electronic world a good one? Maybe – but the playing with these things are perhaps more agreeable to the practical parts of our minds, or the practical minds among us. If you spend more time playing with thoughts and theories, more than with practical tools, it has some basic problems, or shall we say, some principles to be mastered.
When we do that, we can start handling the computer, instead of letting it handle us.