Some questions to ponder.

Based on dream machines:

If a person can drive a car with just basic understanding of its operations why was the early computer considered to be too complex for the layman? The layman does not know the specific engineering of a car and why it is built the way it is, yet they still have the capacity to use one. Why then was it thought that computers were out of reach for the layman?

Just like how scientists are held in high esteem, did the computer programmers or creators feel like they had earned that type of position? Not everyone can use the Hadron Collider in Switzerland so, with this train of thought, should everyone have been allowed to use a computer?

Nelson feared that at worst the computer would lock us in and at best, it would further individualistic traditions and create the highest ideals. It is evident by looking at today’s society that both has happened. If his theory was taken seriously when first published would the popular or preferred uses of the computer be different? Would it be solely educational and not seen as a novelty?



2 thoughts on “Some questions to ponder.

  1. coltonrector says:

    As to your first question, when cars were first invented people then probably didn’t have any idea what they were or how to use them either until they started becoming more prominent. If you’ll think about our present day and time, computers I think have become more prominent than cars. I say this because in America alone I’ll bet their are more people with internet capable phones or laptops than there are cars. You see three and four year olds playing on iPhones just as simply as we college students do. Back when computers came about I think that it was just something so new and so complex at the time that people were basically afraid of it.

  2. Good set of questions! I particularly like how you conjure up a comparison to try and get at the essentials of the issue. The car comparison works well — most people probably don’t know what makes the car run (they just know it needs gasoline), and it is a complicated piece of machinery (one that if misused can even kill another person). What made computers seem to formidable?

    I think part of the answer is that they were compared culturally to massive intelligence (often called “giant brains”) and their association with mathematics and computing (which many people don’t like — in the US you often find people saying they are “math-phobic”) the idea of programming was perhaps intimidating by these associations. Cars were machines for moving, computers for thinking — which perhaps made people wary of their abilities to use them. And these sensibilities did lend themselves to computer engineers being seen as being beyond ordinary people (especially in speaking a technical language regular folks didn’t comprehend). And you’re right, since computer time was expensive and had to be rationed, the idea that prioritizing its uses only for the most important purposes gave it an even more exalted status.

    That’s certainly an open question about Nelson’s ideas and what might have happened if they had found greater acceptance. The idea of seeing the computer as a personal learning and creating machine might well have been a stronger result than seeing it as a business tool. In the end, its initial acceptance depended on its use in corporate settings, so that may have interfered quite a bit with Nelson’s attempts to get people to think differently.

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