It was in my first class in computer programming that Mrs McElroy taught us that the computer [as it was then, 1982] was just a dumb box, dependent wholly on us, to provide any meaningful response. GIGO was the concept, Garbage in Garbage out. Here’s a snippet from the wiki entry,
It refers to the fact that computers, unlike humans, will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data
and produce nonsensical output. It was most popular in the early days
of computing, but has fallen out of use as programs have become more
sophisticated and now usually have checks built in to reject improper
input. The aphorism GIGO was originally coined by Stephen "Wilf" Hey, a
programmer who had a regular column in PC Plus magazine.
I bring it up because I find that these fundamentals – syntax error, gigo, lifo, fifo – have not only stayed with me but colour my view of this box in front of which I sit right now to write this post. In actual fact, over the past 25 years much has changed. While gigo is still true to a great degree – any excel spreadsheet will show you quickly, spewing out crazy charts if your data is incorrect, there has been a major shift in the way I perceive this box on my desk.
Because of my understanding of what this box could do or not, I had never perceived it as more than a glorified calculator – sure with bells and whistles – but conceptually it was no more than another electronic tool to be used when required for a task. It was dead otherwise. But over the past decade or little more, there has been a major change – one that I didn’t notice until yesterday afternoon. And that is the advent, the spread and flourishing of the world wide web.
Today, this screen in front of me is closer in analogy to a ‘window’ to the world – a virtual world, intangible yet visible, digital yet more human – one that allows me to communicate, to collaborate and to conduct commerce. It is my connection to the global village, to my parents in Singapore, to my friends around the world, and more.
But what it is not, anymore, is simply another tool, albeit a powerful one, on my desk, like the calculator or typewriter, as it used to be for me, in the first decade I used it. Today, this desktop PC is simply my access to the wider world. imho, only.
And this ‘screen’, whose curtains I pull aside, every morning, to peek in and see what’s up in the world, is now no different than the bay windows in my living room, from which I peek out every morning to see what’s up in the world.
There’s a nugget of something here, an idea or phrase or concept, that feels just a little out of my reach right now as I grapple with these words trying to articulate it. I’ll be back.