Category: computers

Technology, Tools and Traps

By , 12 October 2007 7:19 pm

I have been busy this week, partly with getting hold of the new car. (Very nice, thank you.) But doesn’t everything take so much of an effort these days? The Octavia manual runs to 200 pages and that’s only the English; you are aware how far computers have made inroads into the world of the car.

One other thing that has occupied me this week has been trying to find an online calendar and To Do program that I can access from any computer at home or work and also from my Windows Mobile phone. As you may or may not be aware, there are some very fine products, such as Yahoo Calendar, Google Calendar and a few other things that are great for managing dates and appointments. There are also some very good pieces of task management software, and the one I have got the most mileage out of so far is the splendidly named Remember The Milk. Hitherto I have used Microsoft’s Outlook, but find that it has all sorts of limitations. Currently Google Calendar and Remember The Milk seemed to be the best combination, but transferring dates and times from Outlook into the online Google calendar is far from easy.

Why have I been so anxious to do this? It’s actually a very good question. The first answer is that I want to be able to organise my life, wherever I am. I want to be able to know what I have to do and when I have to do it. I want to be able to click on any computer and be told I have this marking, and this preparation to do. And, I would add, because I am not the most organised of people, this is vital. The reality is, I suspect something far deeper. It is a forlorn, doomed hope that I will find some wonderful piece of software that will actually do the work for me. I live in hope that there will be something that, with a few mouse clicks, will write those references on students, mark those papers and prepare those lectures. I acknowledge the full force of the curse on Adam in Genesis chapter 3, paraphrased from memory thus: ‘from now on, you will only earn a living by the sweat of your brow’. But I live in hope that somehow, somewhere I will find an exception to this rule. Incidentally, this is not why I write books. I write books for the same reason that I scratch my body; it’s an itch that needs attention. But yes, I’d love to write full-time.

This leads me to an intensely valuable piece of advice that I read over 20 years ago, which I share with you gladly in the hope that someone else might find it equally helpful. It was so striking that I can still remember where I read it: it was in an imported computer magazine (yes, they did have them in those days) in Antananarivo, Madagascar. It was a summary of some early work on two sets of managers: one IT literate, and the other IT illiterate. They had followed them for a couple of years to see how they progressed. To everyone’s surprise, the IT illiterates actually advanced faster up the corporate ladder than their colleagues. The reason, the writer concluded, was that the computer literates spent far too much of their time tweaking the software, learning tricks and helping other people sort out computer problems. The IT illiterates simply got on with their job.

Two decades and three or four jobs later, I can only say that this strikes me as being a very profound observation for writers, educators and everybody else. What technology gives with the one hand, it takes away with the other. Somewhere Stephen King talks about he calls ‘the world’s finest word processor: the Waterman fountain pen’. In an age when cars come with 200 page manuals, I know exactly where he is coming from.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy