Saturday, August 02, 2008

misconstruing computers (Blame it on computers 2)

I heard a radio interview today with a professor from the Music department of Sydney University. Conversation happened to touch on computers. She seemed to indicate she actively avoided computers altogether. One comment was that she couldn't see why everybody needed a computer, it was so wasteful to have one computer per person. Somebody may occasionally catch her at a university computer, but she'd be checking up references in assessing a student's work - they sometimes cited web references.

She rather entirely missed the point about the whole phenomenon. For most people, computers should be and are simply a tool in the course of whatever it is they are focused on.

In this sense, a computer is meaningful simply as an extension of one's faculties. It helps record and store information, collate and retrieve and, especially, communicate with others. Such a tool can be and is helpful in any discipline - music not being an exception. She gave a good example of this, above.

There are a variety of hurdles in this construction, for many people.

One lies in the fact that the personal computer is exemplary of technology, and technological advancement. More complex perhaps, but essentially equivalent to all devices that modern life has mandated coming to grips with through the 20th century. This (coupled with the relative complexity of operation) can ipso facto create barriers. In the case of the professor, she was in her mid-sixties - and age can be a barrier [not that age brings with it mental degeneration, but rather a distance from popular culture, and/or a reluctance or weariness in the face of the continual adaptions needed).

Another hurdle is the very use of the tool. It is far from intuitive for those coming to it for the first time. The rapid evolution of operating systems could eventually make this easier, but I suspect this is happening quite slowly so far. Fuelled in part by the fact that those designing those successive generations are building rather too readily on existing paradigms of computer usage, rather than trying to make that use more intuitive for someone that may be new to it. In this way, the failures in adaption/adoption must to a fair extent be laid at the door of those designing, (and presenting, maintaining, and teaching) the technology.

My wife also suggests, in all seriousness, that musicians are a different breed, thinking differently, and that they would make for very reluctant adopters of such technology. If true, it's certainly not true for all. If true for many of them, it should still be much less true for academics, whose minds must have instilled in them sufficient rigour to attain the positions they are in, including organisational and analytical.

The hurdles are scarcely due to lack of need for computers. For nigh on everything we do, they should be able to help us do them better.

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