Thursday, December 20, 2007

recap on the digital life

I'm older than many net users. Next year I will celebrate my 60th birthday. But despite those six decades, I still feel 21 inside with all the excitement and promise of flying cars, wall-to-wall videoconferencing and a no-work society still welling up inside me from time to time.

In a way I've already accomplished those many childhood dreams. I work alone, digitally - almost on autopilot - with the world as my market, without leaving my desk. I'm dictating this post through Dragon Naturally Speaking and sharing my work on four 19" screens (pic).

With the click of a button I can access most of my family in far-flung parts of the world, and talk to them face to face.

Another click or two and I can buy products from any part of the world, and have them sent anywhere. It's an incredible existence, far surpassing anything I had ever dreamed of.

As an example, a week ago I bought a new webcam for my brother who lives in Britain - a Logitech Quickcam 9000 for high quality video through Skype. I already had one.

Although it was a Christmas present for him, it was really for me... because I benefited most from the better quality video. But the exciting part of this giftgiving was that I was able to purchase it from in UK, and have it delivered to his doorstep in a matter of two or three days.

Today, this is commonplace. Kids take the net for granted. A few days ago my grandson, aged 11, added another contact to his Skype list with the help of my brief instructions. Computers weren't even invented when I was 11, for goodness sake, yet here he was deftly managing this overly complex business we call the internet and computer.

But there's a lot wrong still with our digital world. Design and function are primitive. Last week I gave an old computer to my mother in-law, who's 93, so we can video chat. That's her setup on the right.

She has done remarkably well in working it out with my brief instruction - considering she had never used a computer in her life. But there were a lot of physical problems to overcome like controlling the mouse and understanding what a window is. Still, we've gone far enough to make and receive Skype calls, and no doubt she will start building her list of contacts in time as I did.

So the internet and computing at any level is still fiendishly complex. And until you tutor someone who has never worked on a computer do you realize how much underlying knowledge you have built up over the years.

My ambition is to make our digital life as simple as possible. At the moment I'm doing this awkwardly with complex workarounds like hotkeys and automatic mouse & keyboard sequences because there isn't a better way.

But it shouldn't be like this. More on this later.

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