I’m not dead yet! (But my old computer is)

January 17, 2010

In case you’re wondering if the man and machine behind Explain Technology have been in permanent hibernation, rest assured: I’m not dead yet. But there is an interesting story about both human and computer illness contributing to the absence of posts.

Back in late summer, I decided to spend a bit more time finishing The Ultimate PC Primer. Ironically, just about that time, my PC began showing signs of decay: freezing, browser crashing on more and more sites, more system errors, you get the picture.  But from everything I read, I needed to hang on until Windows 7 shipped. No problem, I thought.

Well, the end of October rolled around, and instead of getting to know Windows 7,  I had the privilege of getting to know H1N1 personally.  As my symptoms lessened, my PC’s problems became worse. I needed a new PC… but at that point (mid November) I figured I should hold out for Black Friday sales. And that I did, getting a pretty sweet deal. And then… I waited for my new blazing fast computing workhorse to arrive.

And waited.

And waited.

After 3 shipping delays comprising over a month of elapsed time, I finally received the new machine this past Tuesday. Last night, I finally finished getting all my software installed and my data from the old machine copied. Amazingly, today, the old machine won’t even power on. Now that’s cutting it a little too close!

I won’t bore you with my personal opinions of Windows 7 or of the hardware (they’re a dime a dozen on the web. Uh, well, actually they’re free.) But here’s one thought to ponder out of my initial experience: When I opened the computer box, the only introduction to Windows 7  on paper was a note card sized bi-fold piece of paper. How’s that for a contrast between buying a computer 20 years ago and today? Remember when PCs came with inch-thick paper manuals? Granted, setting the machine up wasn’t that difficult (for me), but what if this was my first PC? “Oh, but Ben, all that help is electronic now! You don’t need paper instructions. The software will practically hold your hand!” Right. That’s why, within minutes of powering on and following the prompts, I received the first program failure error (on one of those “hold your hand” pieces software from the hardware vendor, not Windows 7 itself, mind you.) Golly! Is computing really assumed to be flawless? Further, even when it does work, can we assume everyone has the spirit of exploration to figure out a brand new system without much guidance? I not only think not, I find not. It’s becoming more apparent to me that the desire to explore and understand the technology one works with is not a universally-shared trait, but that it is one required for confidence and success in the constantly changing technology space.

So as Explain Technology returns to the web, look for more thoughts stemming from my experiences consulting — especially in corporate spaces — soon… particually on this concept of exploration-based learning of technology.