Nugget for Man-Computer Symbiosis

Marginal Notes

Marginal Notes
Photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

In reading through the Licklider article, it was easy to get sidetracked noting the changes in technology that followed a decade or two after he wrote it. With the development of integrated circuit technology and microprocessors, there is no need to think about time-share systems allowing multiple users access to the central computer. While server systems have some similarity to the time-share concept, they are in fact different and are used for access to resources, not computing capability (until we have large-scale cloud computing, anyway).

What caught my attention, for a nugget, is the changing employment roles brought on by computer technology. Licklider states “In large part, the interest stems from realization that one can hardly take a military commander or a corporation president away from his work to teach him to type.”[emphasis added]. This turned out to be just plain wrong. If anything, commanders and corporate leaders need to type more than ever before. And nobody had to teach them. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be successful with email and other communications.

I recall a few years ago (in the Windows 3.11 era) helping a campus president who refused to move from DOS to Windows. Someone had written scripts for him to navigate to his email and word processor, which was about all he thought he needed. Eventually, he needed more, and once he had a Windows operating system, I and others had to train him on getting around the GUI. My office was nearby, so I would get snagged to help him do some very minor things; but, eventually he learned to work on his own.

I’m sure more has changed, as well. There no longer is a need for rooms full of “girls” typing away on typewriters, transcribing dictated messages and documents. While there is still much gender differentiation in the workplace, all are capable of adapting to the use of computers and don’t need to be taught to type. I bring up the gender role issue because of the unconscious references in these dated articles we are reading. Like any historical document, the authors were products of their times, and we can read sociological ideas into their writings. Being careful not to ascribe more modern views to them, we can see that times have changed, and the use of technology is part of that change.

Room full of Keyboards

Room Full of Keyboards
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

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2 Responses to Nugget for Man-Computer Symbiosis

  1. Jason Green says:

    I wonder if, with improved speech recognition and the like, the pendulum isn’t swinging back from the point where everyone needs to type, to one where very few will.

    • byzantiumbooks says:

      Just what we need: a room full of people talking to their computers! How about wireless connections directly from our brains? There’s almost enough electrical power, just need to install an amplifier…

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