I didn’t grow up with computers. They just weren’t a common thing in Montana in the 80’s. When my family moved to Texas for two years during my sixth and seventh grades, one of my friends had one in her room that we would play Oregon Trail on, but otherwise it was unremarkable. With the exception of video games and VHS tapes, my childhood was very much like the childhoods of the generations before me. If I wanted to see a friend, I’d have to walk over to his house. If I wanted to send someone a letter, I had to sit down and write it out on paper, scratching out misspellings along the way, then folding it up, stuffing it in an envelope, licking a stamp on it, and dropping it in the mailbox. And then, I’d wait. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. In the past twenty years however, our world has changed dramatically.
If my daughter wants to talk to someone, she pulls out her phone and sends a text. If she wants to send a longer message, she might, if pressed, sit down at her Mac and send an email. Then she waits five or ten minutes, tops, for a reply. More likely, during those ten minutes she’s sent a Facebook message and posted to Twitter. Computers and the Internet have changed how we interact with each other, and technology has improved faster than our culture and education system has been able to adapt to it.
What are these magic boxes that have intruded on our lives? How do they function? How can we best use them? How can we ensure that we become their master, and not the other way around? There are websites, games, and apps that have become very good at exploiting basic human psychology to extract our personal information, time, and money.
Education is the first and best defense against those who would use our ignorance against us. In the past twenty years, computers have barged their way into the spotlight of nearly every facet of our personal and professional lives, but they are not magic.
I’m starting a series of posts here where we are going to pull back the curtain and see that the wizard is, yet, just a man. We will examine the inner workings of the machine, the components that make up the whole. By the time we finish, you will be able to identify the basic hardware components of a computer and their function, explain what an operating system is and how the main options differ, have a basic understanding of what the Internet is and how it works, and make educated and informed choices about online services.
Reading this series won’t make you an expert on computers, but it is my goal to give you the basic knowledge required to operate computers confidently, and discuss the available options intelligently.
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