Computers As A Tool

It is hard to believe how completely computers have been integrated into the very essence of our lives. In a relatively short time many people have come to identify with computers as an extension of themselves, as almost part of their persona, in much the same way that clothes, cars, and other items have taken on social significance. If you don't believe me, just think of the popular Mac/PC ads that showed a certain brand as being “cooler” than the other. (If you aren't familiar with them, go over to YouTube, and search for Mac vs PC ads and you will likely find several compilations for your entertainment.) I have, in fact, known many people who got so caught up in the whole computer manufacturer platform debate so as to go out of their way to make others that don't own the same hardware feel inferior. What is interesting about the whole situation is that a computer is a tool, not an end result.

To more fully realize why I consider a computer a tool, and not an end result, consider the following scenarios. I spent an hour typing in checks into a checkbook program. I spent 30 minutes typing in a letter into a word processor. I sent a message to a friend via email. I edited some photos and sent them to a friend. In no case is the fact that a computer is involved hardly relevant. The checkbook needed to be reconciled, so I chose to use a computer to manage the data on the checks and the balance. I needed to write a letter, so I chose to use a word processor to help format the text on the page. I wanted to communicate with my friend, and I chose to use a computer to send the message or edit the pictures. The computer is a tool in all of those cases, and not an end result. If I could have done it quicker and easier without using a computer, I should have.

What? We don't have to use a computer for everything? I know it is hard to believe, but yes, there is life outside of computers. I remember a crisis situation which happened in the office of a company I worked for. The person spent hours trying to get a Post Script output file to look correct when printed on a specific output device. As deadlines loomed they finally realized that the change they needed could be accommodated by a knife, some tape, and a copy machine. While the solution was certainly not “glamorous” it points to how easily we caught up in the whole notion of needing the computer to do it. It simply won't be right if it isn't done by the computer. We need to put everything in the computer, we must, we have to, there is no other way. On the other hand, one could step back and realize that if you are having to fight with the computer to get the job done, there may be other tools available.

Along the same lines, why does it matter what computer platform you use? Perhaps it doesn't! For all of the hype about whether you use a Mac or a PC, Windows or Linux, a typewriter or a pen, or a hammer and a chisel, the end result is what matters. The user chooses the tool that is most available, comfortable and appropriate to use, and uses it to accomplish whatever the end result is. There are limitations of every computing environment independent of personal preference. It is time to let go of our attachment to the tool and concentrate on the job to be done. Select the right tool for the job, and put your effort into making a difference by what you can do with it, not brooding over how it was done.