Lessons of a Computer

In today's physical isloation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are spending more time in front of our computers, for those of us lucky enough to still have work, to work, and in order to continue meeting with one another via tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Hangouts. We find ourselves using this technology more and more in our lives so that it has become more of a commodity and a necessity.

computers.jpgLike a train can teach you that by being one minute late, you can lose everything, what is it that the ubiquitous technology under our fingertips can teach us? Having gotten a Master's Degree in computer science, and having worked as a programmer for over two decades, computer keyboards are not foreign to my fingers in the least. I attend board and committee meetings, services, and work from home via the computers in my home office. So what can we learn from these devices?

The first thing that comes to mind is how important it is to have strong, reliable connections, maybe even a backup or two. These connections give a sense of stability and security and can our lives a lot more efficient. Failure to bay a connectivity bill, can result in massive impacts to the our ability to function in our lives. Therefore, we need to actively seek out out and maintain stable connections in order to maintain our impact on the things that matter to us.

The next thing that comes to mind is that computer programs follow instructions explicitly. Flawed instructions or data can result in hard to find problems. One piece of code knows nothing about another piece of code or even the overall purpose of the whole. It only follows the instructions set before it. It takes a programmer to make changes to the code to make it better.

Computers are complex systems built from simple pieces. That teaches us that by coming together in creative ways, no matter how limited we are individually, we can create complex systems capable of creating massive change.

Finally, systems that are broken often don't know they are broken, and it takes an outside point of view, from an observer that can see that the system is failing and in what ways to bring awareness to the problem. Because programs are software, they can be changed. More logic can be added or removed to benefit more users of the system, but that usually needs to be done by someone who is familiar with enough of how the system operates to make that change. Only by being aware of what is happening, can the programmer know where to look to address the issue. It takes awareness, knowledge, and courage to make change, and a willingness to return again and again to continue always improving.

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