Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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december 1994

Facing Technology

What is important is not how computers and the Internet work, but how you can make use of them.

In techno-talk, there is much made of interface - how people interact with technology, and how can you improve your product to make it more accessable. When I showed my computer to my Grandparents, I realized that there was a fundamental interface problem - they couldn't even concieve of what was before them.
I had my Powerbook with me when I visited them in Texas over Thanksgiving. I turned it on, played around a bit, and pulled a picture of my grandparents up on my computer. It was astonishing to them - that their images could exist inside that little gray box. They looked confused, and asked me how I did it, or how my computer could do that.
I tried to briefly explain to them the process of light and pixels and computers. I told them that I had taken their picture, and essentially photocopied it into the computer with a scanner. I wanted them to say "Wow - that's cool! How do we do that?" But they were bent on figuring it out. My grandmother had a technological mantra "I just don't understand it" which she repeated with a stubborn perplexity. What baffled them was that it was even possible - the sheer improbability of it rendered it inaccessable. I tried to explain it further...
When I realized that I myself didn't even really know what was going on! I had taken a leap of faith to trust my tools. I knew what they could do for me, and I used them without necessarily knowing how or even why they did their thing. Understanding can follow use.
The difference between use and understanding was reinforced by a visit from a BBC corespondant to my desk at HotWired. After a web tour, she began to ask me some of her own questions. She didn't understand this whole Internet thing; she wanted me to explain to her what it was - how it worked.

It is possible to describe the Internet in glowing enough terms to bring glimmer to an eye - this abstract hyperbole is plentiful online. But examples of the power and potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web make for quicker conversion. I explained e-mail and newsgroups. I demonstrated the ease of publishing pages on the world wide web. By the time I had finished my few sentences on the power of the net and the web, she was comfortable with the concepts, and eager to chart her own course.

Grasp not what it is, but what it can do.

Check it out:

The Internet is

A worldwide network of computers and terminals connecting businesses and schools and individuals to a number of forums and publishing media. Through the use of packet switching technology and distributed hubs, any computer on the Internet can talk to any other - cross platform communication.

The Internet does

Connect you to an exciting community developing forms of communication across virtual space. More specifically, you can use near-instantaneous mail, read up to the minute news, participate in discussion, and access archives. In addition, magazines and original content is provided online, often free, and it is easy to publish your own.
Once you realize how you can use computers and the Internet, realize that computers are designed to be accessable. Other people have learned how to use them. Nowadays, they require less and less preparation and arcane knowledge. Basically, there is no reason you should not be able to learn how to use them, with a little time and patience.

First use, and practice. Enlightenment shall follow.

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