"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"
(Arthur C. Clarke)
I'm really not that old, honest! But I can remember a world before computers - just. For so many people alive today a world without computers would be unthinkable - unimaginable. For years, as my kids have been growing up, they have, from time to time, thought of me as some sort of idiot if I have spent too long searching for the pause button on the video recorder (or should I say DVD player) or not instinctively known my way around Facebook. They would grab the remote or the mouse from me and complete what I wanted to do in half the time. "There, it's easy. What's the problem?" And in doing so they have believed that they are 'experts' and I'm just some sort of dinosaur!
The truth is, these days, you don't need to actually understand what goes on inside a computer to be able to use is, enjoy it, make it do amazing things and feel like an expert. It might as well be magic. But I remember when you really did have to understand a computer to be able to use it. To put something into a computer took knowledge of something called Machine Code and you had to know what the holes were for on a punched card or tape. In order for two computers to talk to each other you had to know what a modem did and be able to configure all the little dip switches to make it do the right thing. The first computer I ever saw was at senior (high) school and it really did fill a whole room. The gigantic black box would roar away and cooling fans would blow your hair about. There were no screens to look at then, only a terminal that looked like a glorified typewriter - very noisy, with reams of paper spewing onto the floor.
I've made my career in computers. I've installed them, sold them, fixed them and built them. Doing these things took real knowledge and brought a certain satisfaction. When Windows came along (yes, there was a time when Windows did not exist), getting it to work and stay working was no easy task. As long as you didn't have to change anything you would be ok. But buy a new printer or try to install another application and you were in for hours of heartache. You could guarantee that it would not work. Something would go wrong. And you had to know something of what goes on inside a computer to fix it.
What kid today really knows why computers need memory or a hard drive? It's not as straightforward an answer as you might think. Who knows the difference between a bit and a byte? What's a protocol? How does a network actually work? The truth is it's really not magic after all - it's decades of research and development by dedicated and clever people. Today there are still armies of dedicated and clever people making things that to the average person amounts to magic. I'm glad I'm old enough to know how a computer works on the inside and next time my kids grab the mouse and roll their eyes at me, I'll roll my eyes right back and let them have their moment in the sun.