20.044 What it's like to use a computer

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 1 Jun 2006 05:40:12 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 44.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 01 Jun 2006 05:30:53 +0100
         From: John Lavagnino <John.Lavagnino_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: What it's like to use a computer

People used to write articles about their discovery of word
processing or e-mail or the web, way back in the twentieth century;
nobody does that now. A merit of those articles was that they
offered some account of the mass everyday experience of computing,
useful for those who might have some kind of professional support (at
a university or other place of work) or were seriously into it rather
than only concerned about getting a job done, and so lived in a
different world.

To get an idea of the mass everyday experience of computing now, we
need research. "The Long Term Fate of Our Personal Digital
Belongings" by Catherine C. Marshall, Sara Bly, and Francoise
Brun-Cottan offers a sample of that sort of research (and is
available at http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/~marshall/pubs.html). I don't
mean to dismiss its overt subject, that of what we need in a system
for preserving our "digital belongings": it's an important subject
and the paper has a lot of valuable things to say about it. But I
was more moved by its evocation of what the digital world is like for
the small group of people interviewed. It's a world in which you
never quite know why anything is happening, in which you can never
quite get everything working just right, don't have a good way to
preserve things that are precious to you, feel that it's somehow your
own failing and so try to disavow any real attachment to those
things. It's a familiar picture, really, but the concentration of
data and the precise analysis make it all vivid again.

John Lavagnino
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Received on Thu Jun 01 2006 - 00:57:21 EDT

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