Not the time to ask

Voice Card  -  Volume 28  -  Larry Card Number 6  -  Tue, May 4, 1993 9:58 PM

This is ONE OF 4 responses to VC 27 John 15 ("Easier or Harder?")...

I really do think that computers are neither getting easier or harder to use. Let's consider how I do data analyses using SPSS. I remember back to the days of punching out cards at a keypunch and feeding them through a card reader and waiting until the next day to receive my printout just to find out that I had left a period out of a command, and thus had to repeat the whole process. Once I had my data analyzed, I created a few simple tables, charts or graphs; and wrote a report which a secretary would then type. That was the accepted norm then because few knew better.

Today, with SPSS for the Mac, I type in (or simply select) the commands I need, press a button, get instanteous feedback on syntax and most errors, and have my output printed in a matter of minutes. Beautiful colorful graphics are a few keystrokes away. I do my own typing, formatting and graphics.

Sounds like life in the fast lane of SPSS is much easier these days, doesn't it?

Well, it didn't take any longer or any more work to complete my report 20 years ago then it does to complete it today. However, today's report describes much more sophisticated data analysis techniques (they were just too expensive to run 20 years ago), has the data analyzed in much more detail, and has beautiful, intricate graphics. I have a much, much nicer, more complete, and more useful report (probably more accurate too).

However, the point is that it really isn't any easier of faster. I'm simply getting much more in return for my efforts.

As computer technology increases so do our expectations of what we can do. So, I don't think it's easier or harder, just better.

Now to the title of this card, "Not the time to ask."

One of the down sides of computers becoming better is our (or maybe I should say my) increased dependence on them. This was brought home very clearly just yesterday.

Yesterday was the day that I was to receive my brand new (and upgraded) LC III at the office, with 80 mg hard drive and large screen color monitor. How much nicer this would be then my souped up SE with 20 mg and the large screen Raster Ops.

As I sat down at my desk, drooling at the opportunity to fire up the new machine and transfer all my data and other work to their new home, I flipped the switch on the SE to start it up to initiate the transfer. Nothing happened. I tried it again - nothing, just a ? on my SE screen.

An obvious hard drive problem. No biggie, just call the local experts in to fix it and get my stuff off. Four hours later I learn that the heads have crashed, literally smashed each other. The repair technician said he had only seen one similar case in all his years of repair work (and he was pretty old). Total destruction and total loss of everything on my hard drive. An hour or so before my new machine would have been up and running.

My point in this longwinded story is that almost everything that I do, every work product I have is controlled by my computer. When it went, it took everything I had with it. Fortunately, I'm relatively diligent about backing things on to floppies - even though I did lose about a month's worth of revisions. However, the relative ease accessibility of the computer can have its dark side.