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Reminiscing about technology

By Jean-Claude Elias - Mar 30,2017 - Last updated at Mar 30,2017

I hope the readers of this column don’t mind me reminiscing about the old days every now and then, instead of presenting or reviewing new products, applications or sometimes gadgets. Having put my hands, literally, on a computer as long ago as in 1973 AD (I can hear the laughter; or the gasp…) gives me a special insight, a kind of bird’s-eye view on the technology.

When someone asks me “when did you start your love story with the machine?” I like to tell them “when there were no keyboards, no mice and no screens, and of course no Internet; you figure out the year… or the century”, and I leave them wondering how on earth we used to work and what exactly we could do or achieve with those early days computers.

Is reminiscing this way only a sentimental attitude, is it just a languid feeling of nostalgia, or does it have any true usefulness?

Part of it is associated with feelings, certainly. There are no rules against that and it doesn’t hurt anyone. It even makes evening chats with friends funnier, more entertaining. There’s also another side of the story, one that I find to be useful. 

Having started to study computer science and to work on systems when hard disks were a few megabytes, memory a few kilobytes and when screens’ colours were anything but accurate (that is when we started to have screens circa 1980), it all makes you appreciate the technology we have today and use it in the best possible manner.

In a way it’s like teaching children the value of things, of money for example, so that they don’t get spoiled and learn to appreciate what they have.

Take the fine art of computer programming for instance. Writing a programme today, with all the technical resources available is infinitely easier than back in “those” days where we had to sparingly use memory, for each kilobyte counted. Once a programme was done, however, it used to be very neatly done, fast and easy to maintain and upgrade. Countless software application today are not, precisely because programmers squander the machines’ and the networks’ resources.

When you go to Google Play or Apple Store today and find thousands of applications for mobile devices, you then have to spend precious time and do some research, do comparisons and read lengthy reviews before opting for one app and deciding that after all it is a good one, the one you really need. This is pure waste of time.

One aspect of the technology we tend to forget is that computers, tablets and smartphones are nothing but calculators; very advanced, very complex ones maybe, but calculators nevertheless. Besides, in English to compute means to calculate and the French still say “calculateur” for computer — well, the older generation at least. What does the calculation aspect mean, practically speaking, for today’s users? 

It means that we must sometimes be patient when a machine crashes, when saving or copying a mammoth-size file takes a couple of seconds more than expected or when rendering a complex video is not done in a split second, when a website takes “forever” to open — the computer is doing its calculations, give it a break!

Last but not least is taking good care of hardware, like not throwing it against a concrete wall for example or trying to immerse it in various liquids. Computers used to be very fragile and we used to treat them gently. In many instances it was recommended to operate the machines, even personal computers, in air-conditioned environments. If today hardware is significantly more tolerant to physical shocks, extreme temperatures and humidity than before, it still requires some care. Many tend to forget it today. Well, after all if some smartphones are waterproof, up to a certain extent, perhaps laptops will also become at least water resistant one day soon; who knows? And there are indeed military grade laptops nowadays that can take severe physical abuse without complaining at all — count JD6,000 to JD12,000 to own one.

I don’t miss the old days and am thrilled to have and to use today’s computers, networks and all that goes with them. Still, it was nice back then not to have viruses or spam e-mails.

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