This is a response to VC 28 John 10 ("Tree Easier, Forest Harder")...
Didn't respond to this first time around, so here goes.
I think computers are definitely easier to use. At the same time, as Larry said, we expect more out of them AND the average user. I think the problem has a lot to do with overestimating users' desire and/or ability to expand their knowledge of their computer.
In my tech support work, I've found that most employees just want to know how to use their Mac/PC to do the job they are required to do. They could care less how much RAM they have, the size of their hard drive, or whether they can put something into three columns. "Just get me from point A to point B!" they cry. They don't WANT to learn anything beyond what's necessary to complete the task at hand. I don't mean this to sound condescending, it's just the way they feel.
[I've always been the same way with a desk calculator - add, subtract, multiply and divide, that's all I need to know; who cares about storing numbers in memory, or all those decimal options, I just want it to work!]. These are the people I mean when referring to the "average worker" or the "average assistant" throughout the rest of this diatribe.
John, you described the "old days" of typewriters, etc. already. The same people who had these simple (as opposed to complex - and not necessarily easy, either!) jobs, where they mostly relied on interpersonal and organizational skills rather than computer skills to accomplish goals, are now expected to be computer literate!! At Pacific Bell Directory, employees can take classes, from basic Mac/PC use to specific applications. I don't think, however, that any of these addresses what Holly called the intimidation factor.
I was raised with computers - I often joke that I was born with a microchip in my mouth as opposed to the proverbial silver spoon. Yet my first exposures to computers were TOTALLY intimidating! The fact that computers are everywhere does nothing to make people feel at ease with them; in fact, I think this can be more intimidating.
To top this off, we have the higher expectation factor. Where offices were once content with simple, typewritten memos, letters announcements, the average assistant is expected to turn out newsletters, answer e-mail, maintain databases (remember photocopying typed addresses onto label sheets?!), create fancy flyers with clip art, design forms, work with spreadsheets, etc. Do we have software developers to thank for the fact that each one of these tasks requires knowing a different software package (well, we can always blame everything on Bill Gates!)?
In the "old days," whatever required something more than a typewriter to produce was sent out to a typesetter/designer for production. The problem now is that, instead of turning to an expert, managers just buy the software - it's "cheaper" than paying the expert - and expect their subordinate to learn it.
Since I am a graphic designer, I'll give this as an example. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brand new "designers," if I may use the term loosely. Anybody with a Mac and PageMaker suddenly thinks they can do a newsletter or flyer, and is expected to by their bosses. [Again, I don't mean this to sound arrogant. There are plenty of people who do great work with no graphic art training. I'm just using this to make a point.] I may know how to use Excel (just barely!) but I'm certainly not going to start doing financial analysis; if I needed this done, I'd call up one of our financial analysts.
Companies think they're saving money by buying the software, but what they end up with is (a) a mediocre-looking newsletter, (b) a frustrated, stressed-out employee, of whom too much is being expected and (c) an out-of-work designer who could have done a much better job, and also freed up the employee to do what he or she is skilled in. You can apply this to quite a few situations the average office worker faces every day.
We Archipelagoans may have a facility with computers, but obviously not everybody does. I think the problem is similar to the card I wrote about using the right tool for the job - we have to use the right PEOPLE for the job, too. Granted, someone with an innate fear of computers will have more and more difficulty finding employers who don't use Macs/PCs in some way, shape or form. But if employers would pass on more complex tasks to experts, instead of expecting their employees to become instant pros, WE'D ALL BE WORKING AND A LOT HAPPIER!!!!