Saturday, January 19, 2008

images of the computer, revisited

In 1991 (pre-web) I wrote an essay which outlined 4 images or metaphors of the computer. It was published then in the union journal and on some old networks that probably don't exist anymore:

Image 1: The computer as a dangerous tool that threatens the emotional well being of our students

Image 2: The computer as a substitute teacher that threatens and dehumanises teaching as a profession

Image 3: The computer as a productive tool that helps prepare students for the world of work where productivity is a big issue

Image 4: The computer as an expressional, creative and reconstructible tool ... an intelligent assistant that enhances our self awareness

Although these need some updating, much of the detail has changed, they still hold up fairly well IMO. My initial argument was that people internalise these contradictory metaphors to varying degrees and that it was a worthwhile exercise to bring them to the surface to examine their social meaning.

Image 1: In 1991 the main worry of the worry warts was computer games. Now we also have porn, pedophiles and on line bullying to worry about

Image 2: This one has changed the most in that we now have a web2.0 movement that offers far more socially than only individualised computer aided instruction. This image has more positive spin now, a bit too much IMO. However, I would accept that image 2 definitely needs rewording

Image 3 is still what schools mainly strive for and image 4 is what they should be doing but still find too hard

Overall, this makes me think that we are running fast but not making a great of progress. I would still see it as useful to argue about our uses of computers in these terms.


Andres said...


What concerns me the most is that, beyond a certain point of spending energy trying to improve our creative processes, I do not see ourselves using or mastering what we have created as much as I'd like. Do you see this concern from your point of view?


Bill Kerr said...

hi andres,

From reading your blog I get the drift of the need to enjoy the fruits of our creativity in a quirky way, eg. "Soccer is a kind of chess without turns in which timing is everything"

Andres said...


I hold the best world records in 3 soccer videogames, the guy that came in 2nd is far away, and he told me he cheats when he makes recordings of himself.

I also play chess. I am not very good at all, but... here's an anecdote I remember fondly. A couple days before I participated in the finals of the 2006 Smalltalk Solutions Coding Contest, I played a game against a chess master at a Starbucks near the conference site. After about 2 hours, what seemed an eternity, I managed to draw the game. Later I won the contest.

In my mind, the difference between soccer and chess is just that in soccer there are no discrete turns. Otherwise, both are just about the temporal use of space. The comment in my blog simply can't be helped.