Muddling Through And Learning On The Way

I’ve been doing something this week that has made me brush up on some of my rusty computer skills.  It turns out that they were only dormant, and that with a little bit of time and practice I was back up and running as well as I’ve ever managed in the past.

Not that I’m any kind of expert.  At all.

But it made me reflect on the development of my ability to use computers and the more common software packages.

I believe they teach IT skills in schools now.  I’m quite jealous of that as I’ve never had any kind of formal teaching on anything computing related in my life, and yet here I am ‘online’, with a novel on file comprising 120,000 words, all of which I’ve typed myself at least twice, I’ve edited digital film and photos (more or less skilfully), and dabbled in all manner of other time wasting ‘social media’ activities; my only skill seems to be the ability to follow a set of instructions.

It all happened very slowly, of course.  When I first started work no-one had a computer on their desk, columns of figures were written out and added up by hand, reports were dictated or written long hand and a person in the ‘wordprocessing department’ typed them up on a machine called a wordprocessor, and  short letters were typed by a secretary using a golf ball typewriter, using carbon paper to make copies.

When I did my accounting exams one of the questions on the IT and Systems paper was about menu driven software and spreadsheets.  I only remember the question as I had never until that point heard of either of those things.

But before long I was being asked to produce information on spreadsheets, so I had to sit at my desk and, by trial and error, of which the larger proportion was error, get it to look like I knew what I was doing, and try to resist the temptation to simply type in all the numbers rather than work out how to construct formulae.  Remember, this was the era before online help, when the instructions were in a printed book, the only office copy of which had been misplaced.

The first time I had to type text in a  format suitable to be seen by another person was when I went to work in Moscow.  To ask the secretaries, who were not native English speakers, to handle long technical letters was not an efficient use of anyone’s time, so we all did our own.  It was one of those systems with little green type on a black screen; for the first couple of months I was in purgatory, not only did I know nothing about Russian tax, I had to type out advice on that very subject myself (so that it could be faxed to clients, before the era of email ubiquity).

At a recent visit to an exhibition, my friend and I had a discussion about the massive changes a person who lived from 1890 to 1980 would have seen in their lifetime, and that, although we had lived since 1960, it had all seemed pretty much the same throughout. So would they have felt the same?  But thinking about it now, just in this context all these change have come so gradually over us that we don’t notice, we’ve acclimatised without being aware.  Maybe in fact we have lived through as dramatic technological changes as any in era.  And it’s not over yet.

Trial and error have been my tutors, and will continue to be so, and even though I’m still pretty cack-handed with it all, to such an extent that I can be easily patronised by any computer literate small child, I can at least say that I’ve worked it out for myself.

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