University was my first exposure to computers. Several of my engineering projects required us to write some code as the calculations were too long and repetitive for practical completion by hand. So we would gladly head to the “punch card room”, type our FORTRAN code in punch cards, hand our cards to a technician who would put them through a reader, and wait about an hour to get the paper printout. Often there were bugs in our coding or the calculations weren’t done right. So repairs to the code were made, and we tried again. There were more than a few 4:00 a.m. sessions trying to debug our code and get a passing mark for our project. While this process was a pain-in-the-ass, I enjoyed the problem-solving challenge of these projects.
By no means am I an early adopter in new technology. So when the PC craze first came along, I stayed back. But eventually I saw PCs were a viable tool and I became somewhat proficient. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I actually got somewhat good at MD-DOS 3.0. People were inviting me over for free supper in exchange for getting their home computer to run a little better. The DOS manuals were pretty good in those days. Read the manual; solve the problem.
When DOS 6.0 came along, I lost interest in getting better at DOS. It seemed I only needed those features from earlier versions of DOS. Shortly after, Microsoft came up with its first Windows. Windows 3.1 was a fairly stable operating system. It was just another DOS program, but with a very interactive and intuitive interface. Non-DOS people could now do a lot of DOS things by just applying a little common sense. For those of us with some DOS skills, Windows 3.1 was real easy. But every once in a while, we had to go back to the DOS code to solve problems.
My second Windows PC was loaded with Windows 98. This operating system was a much more stable than Windows 95; I was lucky not be an early adopter of this “crashy” operating system. Windows 98 still required some occasional fiddling in DOS code, and I remember downloading and installing drivers of various kinds to get things working.
Then I moved to a computer with Windows XP about 15 years ago. XP had a good reputation, and I chose it over the newer Windows Vista which had stability issues. I found XP quite easy to run. Things seemed to fix themselves, and there didn’t seem to be much fiddling required. I took my computer into the shop once a year for an optimization. I could have probably done this myself, but the one-hour charge by the computer tech saved me time to learn the skills. That was probably the start of losing my skills as an amateur computer tech.
My workplace has moved forward with its MS operating systems. But it stays a year behind the release of the new OS, which is good strategy to let other users find the bugs. So I have had some exposure to Windows 7 and 8. As an XP user, I didn’t find much difficulty using these systems. But the logic of why things work they way they do is not as apparent. I have become like a car driver who does not understand the mechanics of pistons, cylinders, and crankshafts.
My workplace is now at Windows 10. I am not finding this operating system as easy as Windows 3.1 or even Windows 8. While part of my job is to help students with fewer computer skills than I have, I really don’t know what I am doing. I just bang on keys or icons until something positive happens. So I guess I have acquired some aptitude for banging the right way. I can’t seem to remember how I fixed something the day before, but I sure can bang on keyboards and icons to fix it again. And for big problems, I have IT techs who solve the problem for me.
I kept my XP computer at home long after Microsoft quit supporting it. As time passed, I saw less functionality as the internet technology has moved beyond my computer’s capabilities. It seemed to be less stable than before, and I couldn’t access that new-fangled application called Dropbox. It was time to move on with a new computer, but after I finished writing my book. I just didn’t want to go through a big learning curve.
The book was finished, so my family has purchased a Windows 10 laptop. I transferred the important files from the XP to an external hard drive. Unfortunately, my teenage son has little interest in computers, so I am relegated to be the expert. One of my first assignments was to download my wife’s iPhone photos through the computer to the external drive., so she could free up iPhone memory for more photos. This challenge required more than banging. I had to go through several videos to find out I needed to set up a few things on the laptop before the hard drive would accept the photos. This took me about four hours! I can’t recall any DOS-related problem taking that long to solve.
I’m not finding Windows 10 all that intuitive. Any time I get outside of some basic functions, I struggle to figure out what to do. When I get to this state, I have to say: “Give me one hour of uninterrupted time to find and watch videos, and I might be able to fix it.” For me, there hasn’t been any easy, logical, intuitive fix. I believe that today’s favorite operating system requires a whole new way of thinking that doesn’t work well for those of us who grew up with DOS.
Mastering DOS required a logical thinking for building directories to store files. Windows XP had a great file manager system with its folders. But it seems Windows 10 is trying to make things easy for users who don’t like setting up directories or folders. Good for them, I guess. But when I save a new file, I’m not sure where it is being saved any more. While it’s not difficult to find recently used files on Windows 10, if I have to retrieve a file a year from now, I would probably need an hour to find it.
Going through DOS to XP to Windows 10 reminds me of this famous Toffler quote:
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. …
I am now 60 years old. The unlearning of Windows XP and relearning of new Window 10 is not going well. I have become a Toffler illiterate.
I blame old age. When I was in my early 30s, I developed a friendship with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics in his 50s. He told me to learn all I can before I turn 40 because 40-year-old brains are too full to accept more information. He was right! I learned DOS but cannot learn 10.
I sometimes chuckle at advocates who believe older workers, who have spent most of their working life in one occupation, can somehow be retrained for new modern jobs. It’s harder to learn new things as we age!
For sure, I won’t be getting any more free suppers for my computer skills. I hate Windows 10.