The Most Re-trained Generation

It always amazes me that young people today (those in the developed world, anyway) are growing up surrounded by computers and don’t even realize how recent this is. Yet I can sympathize; I felt the same way about the space program, until I realized that the first unmanned spacecraft had been launched only a few years before I was born, and the first American in space (Alan Shepard, in a sub-orbital test drive) when I was a baby. As youngsters, we tend to assume that whatever existed in our earliest memories has always existed.

I majored in English, but dated a Computer Science major. One evening he knocked on the door of my dorm room and found me banging out a term paper on a manual typewriter. “You’re living in the Dark Ages!” he announced, and a few days later he again turned up at my door, this time with a little card that said I had an account at the computer center. He taught me word processing–very primitive–on a terminal hooked up to a mainframe. But I was probably the first English major to turn in a paper composed on a word processor. Being able to edit without retyping a page or using Wite-Out was huge.

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The Menu Toolbar as a Metaphor for Life

Spend enough time using computers and you’ll realize a few things. For example, my old laptop had a highly-developed means of sensing when I was almost finished and wanted to shut down; processing slowed to a crawl and the last couple of tasks, which should have taken no more than ten minutes, took 30. Pretty sophisticated for a machine whose processing speed was measured in hours and battery life in minutes.

MS Word ToolbarOne thing I learned early on is that there is almost always more than one way to do any task in a program. Save a file? You could use File|Save from the Menu Toolbar. Or click the Save icon which, oddly, looks like a floppy disk, even though very few new computers come with floppy disk drives. Or just hit Control-S. I’ve done enough copying, pasting and moving of text within documents that Control-C (or Control-X to cut) Control-V is a single swoop of my fingers across the keyboard–and magically the text is in a new location. Yet I’ve met people who rarely copy and paste who use the Menu Toolbar, a method that seems clunky to me but not to them.

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