At home with computers

Published in ‘Times Computing’ India on 11th October 2000
Computers have a pervasive presence in our lives and in today’s context, can be viewed almost as a necessity. The many uses of a computer can be used to good effect by every member of the family – grandparents, the parents and yes, mainly the kid
Nothing epitomises modern life better than the computer. If many of us were asked what is the one thing that has had the greatest impact on our lives in the modern times, many of us would agree that it is the computer. For better or worse, computers have infiltrated every aspect of our society. Over the past two decades, computers have gone from being monstrous stack of magnetic tape and transistors taking up large spaces, to relatively small boxes, which occupy almost every work, desk today, and more importantly, have made their way into our homes too. Home PC’s have come a long way from the XT’s and AT’s which could come up with a solitary sound that was a beep. Today’s home PC’s are far superior in terms of technology and functionality, and are now labelled ‘Home Entertainment and Productivity Devices’.The home PC is virtually looked upon as an essential commodity today with awareness levels touching new heights. In fact, research shows that a home PC has moved up quite a few notches in the priority list of purchases of any modern family. Education, enhancement of productivity and automation of certain mundane domestic chores have been the driving force in the growing popularity of home PC’s. The way we work, play and communicate will never be the same. We are all a part of the new exciting era where all that can be wired — telecommunication, fax, internet, multimedia with full blown stereo sound — can be initiated right from our own home desktops. A home PC has something for everyone — adults and children alike. Take for instance how granddad at home uses the computer to track all his retirement investments and pension. Granddad has discovered the power of the portfolio manager software, which helps him keep track of all his investments, due dates for payment, maturity dates for his deposits and also maintains his personal accounts. With online banking becoming a reality it also saves his legs a walk to the bank. With a click of a button he has access to his account details and has the flexibility to order chequebooks and other banking documents. Grandmother on the other hand is completely hooked on to the new yoga and spiritual CD-ROM’s giving her volumes of information on the holistic benefits of yoga and various exercises she can try out at her age. With the PC, keeping in touch with her sister in the US has never been so easy. No more waiting for the ‘snail’ mail to arrive. It’s the fast and reliable e-mail that keeps them in regular touch. As for all working fathers and mothers of the family, it is much easier to get work back home so that they have no more late hours at the office. Using five common productivity functions of word-processing, spreadsheet, charting, database and telecommunication, it helps working people make their homes an extension of their workplace. For these hardworking professionals hard pressed for valuable time, getting organised with a home PC has never been more easy with in-built organisers, which track your time and prove more than an adequate replacement for your diary, calendar and alarm clock. As for homemakers, balancing day-to-day expenditures is possible with a click of a button. Trying out a new dish at home for the family is as simple as scouring the net or a CD-ROM for the latest recipes of your choice of cuisine. But more than anything else, the home PC now gives an opportunity to all homemakers to start their own small enterprises from the comforts of their living rooms, providing advantages like flexible work hours, lower house costs, less stress from family-work conflicts and elimination of commuting time to work places. The PC for the kids at home brings to them a whole new world of fun and interactive educational experience. No more boring text for the kids, they can explore loads of information on edutainment CD-ROMS, which have multimedia capabilities with illustrations and sounds attached. Not to miss out on the action-packed computer games, which many kids and adults alike enjoy. For teenagers who are into downloading music, their favourites, be it Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin or Britney Spears, are a few mouse clicks away. And for the fashion conscious daughters at home, beauty tips are a plenty on the Net. Learning with the help of a computer is a powerful idea whose time has come. Today’s educational software covers a diverse range of topics suited for pre-primary right up to adult education. When you learn on a computer, you interact with it. It’s an active process that empowers you to seek out exactly what you want to know. Computers are bound to transform the learning process because they are not only tireless and patient, but work with equal ease with both slower and faster learners. Schools can even have their websites on the Internet to help parents keep in touch of their child’s academic track record. Getting wired into the Internet has changed the way computers are being used nowadays. From swift and easy communication to online shopping and banking it is all possible through the home PC. Keeping in touch with old buddies round the globe, unthinkable due to the exorbitant costs involved some time not too long ago, has become a reality.
But with every improvement in technology come its drawbacks. The recent advent of widespread availability of the home PC and the Internet has meant that people are spending too many hours on the computer at work and also at home. As a result there has been a significant rise in reporting of health problems related to the use of computers. Some of the dark sides of computing being isolation, growing social insulation and increasing ‘Internet add-iction’. Bad erg-onomics can also lead to problems like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, eye strain, back and neck problems. Some psychological changes have also been linked to prolonged use of computers and the Internet. Increased bouts of depression and social isolation have been linked with long hours on the Internet. Violence in computer games has also shown some effects on the child’s psychology. A discipline needs to be maintained in using PC’s. Families should regulate hours at the PC. Working on the PC should not be at the cost of valuable family time. Parents should help educate their kids on the ill-effects of computers and to keep a balance of physical activities and computing experiences.
Peek at the future
The future of home computing lies in wired homes where convergence of technologies will ensure that computing, communication, consumer electronics and other technologies get rolled into one. Such homes have already been experimented with in the US where Microsoft has taken the lead in building a concept home located on the company’s Redmond, Washington corporate campus. The Microsoft home features real home environments such as a kitchen, family room, home theatre and den, in which typical daily scenarios are demonstrated. Imagine being able to automate your daily activities like making breakfast, controlling room temperature automatically and even talking to your home appliances. This may sound far-fetched for now, but as advancements in technology bring down prices of these devices, a wired home is definitely what the future holds for all for us. Computing has become a skill as basic as reading and writing. There are very few offices that don’t have computers, simply because they keep businesses running. Even for those who work outside an office environment, computing skill is useful. Artists, sportsman, musicians, and homemakers all need to know how to use computers. And not having a computer at home may put you and your family at a disadvantage as the world learns to be more efficient with this new marvel of human discovery.