The computer has been one of the most inspired and useful inventions of the last one hundred years. Throughout the years is has become more technologically advanced as society, in general, has become more advanced. With the advancement of the computer to almost every home and/or office, the computer is becoming more and more vital to our society, as we now know it. While being extremely beneficial in many ways, it also creates questions about safety and privacy while on the Internet. In my opinion the computer or more specifically, the Internet, also creates a lower level of social interaction skills in the younger generations. Different cultures may also have different view on the effects and uses of the computer. What I find amazing is that much of the history of computers begins with mathematicians. Within this paper I will discuss the history of the computer; the technology and notable people behind this great invention; the cultural and social implications; and the future of computers, as seen through my eyes.
When the first computer actually “came to life” is quite difficult to say. Some may say that it all began in the 1860’s when “Dorr Felt designed an experimental, multiple-order, key-driven, calculating machine”. (Great Men and Women of Computing p. 33). Still others may argue that “The Zuse Z3, completed in 1941, being the first fully functional, program controlled, general-purpose digital computer” (Great Men and Women of Computing p. 67), created by Konrad Zuse was really the major stepping stone in the creation of the computer. “Computers were invented to ‘compute’: to solve ‘complex mathematical problems’, as the dictionary still defines that word.” (Ceruzzi, Paul E.; A History of Modern Computing; P.1). The invention of the computer or even the calculator that preceded the computer made a huge impact on society in terms of convenience. Although the ease of use was nowhere near what we know today, it was a greatly significant improvement from what they had prior to it. Before the computer became as commonplace as it is now, people had to get their news and information from other sources. Many of which, they may have had to leave home for or in some instances possibly even travel some way for. Of course this was quite a while ago, but the significance should be looked upon with respect to those times. This is possibly the main reason that the computer was such an appealing source of news and information. Now we can get anything on the computer. News, weather, or entertainment are all at the tips of our fingers.
Within the creation of the computer there have been many notable people and different forms of technology that have been utilized. Many of the pioneers of the computer invention were mathematicians. One important factor that was discovered and eventually helped aid the progress of the computer was logarithms. “John Napier provided science and mathematics with a vastly improved and rapid method of notation and calculation, also known as logarithms. This contribution should be considered a major milestone in humanities struggle to improve methods of processing information.” ( Great Men and Women of Computing p. 13). Another of the great technological advancements was the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (The ABC Computer). “In 1939, John Atanasoff built the prototype of an electronic digital computer, with the help of an assistant, Clifford Berry. The ABC was the first electronic digital computer and was assembled in 1942”. (Great Men and Women of Computing p. 85) This is an extremely notable invention because it unitized many of the components that we still use in the computers of today. The first large-scale computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), was built by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly in 1946. “Up until 1963, credit was given to John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert for the first electronic computer” (Great Men and Women of Computing p. 85). From what I have read on the subject of these inventors, I would say that John Atanasoff should really be the person credited with the invention of the prototype of the computers that are still in use today.
Many of the early pioneers of computing are women. Edith Clarke was a pioneer in the sense that she pushed for society to become more accepting of women in positions of power or authority. “In an interview with the Daily Texan she is quoted as saying ‘There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work'” (yale.edu).
She also made an impact with her intelligence. “he translated what many engineers found to be esoteric mathematical methods into graphs or simpler forms during a time when power systems were becoming more complex and when the initial efforts were being made to develop electromechanical aids to problem solving” (yale.edu). Erna Schneider Hoover is another notable woman in the world of computing. “She invented a computerized switching system for telephone traffic, to replace existing hard-wired, mechanical switching equipment” (yale.edu). For this accomplishment she received one of the first patents ever issued (Patent #3,623,007, Nov. 23, 1971). These women made a name for themselves in a profession that was predominantly male.
The creation of the computer as a form of mass communication has created many opportunities within society. With the creation of every new web page or every new news link, we are creating more jobs for the people in our communities. The computer industry has been beneficial to the economy in that it is a great source of employment and education. The computer plays a very important role in many aspects of our lives. Politicians often use the Internet as a forum to boast about whatever they are using as their sales pitch for that week. It reaches so many people by just posting something on an official web page. Voters can look up the past accomplishments of a candidate or just see what they like or dislike about each person before they head out to the polls.
A complication that the computer and Internet bring is the effect on social interaction. While in the past, we have not had many form of mass communication, we now find ourselves overwhelmed at all of the different ways to interact with another person. Most children today learn to use the computer at a very young age. My son is two years old and can already play certain games on the computer by himself. This type of learning is wonderful for his logical and intellectual side, but they may also hinder him in the social aspect of his future. Many children or even adults become so obsessed by the computer with its email and chat rooms that they have trouble relating to people on a face-to-face basis. They are so used to faceless people that they know only by a screen name that the interaction that they have outside of that is strained. I would not say that this is the norm for our society, but it is becoming more common that it was even just ten years ago. Within the next few years who knows how people will be interacting with each other. Especially with the new technological advances that are created every day. While many of the people in our society have access to a computer almost twenty-four hours a day there are many other societies or cultures that do not. Whether I am at work or at home, I have access to the computer and the Internet at all times, whereas a girl my age in Africa more that likely would not have the same privilege. This difference in our cultures may provide me a better education as well as a more definite future all because she would not have access to a computer and all the learning tools that come along with it. The computer is definitely something that would make a huge difference if it were more accessible to different cultures or societies that may not be able to afford this technology on their own.
While the computer is a very important and vital form of communication in today’s world, it is also a form of mass communication that is not regulated by the State and therefore cannot be one hundred percent private for anyone to use. (Cate, Frank H. p. 53) Privacy is a major concern for some people that are trying to be anonymous for one reason or another while online. You can have a certain amount of privacy when you go into a chat room or order something online, but there are other areas that we may not be able to control. “The Intel Corporation embedded unique network operators to identify specific users on the Internet” (Folkerts J., and Lacy. S 2001) making it impossible to be anonymous while searching the Web. As well as these forms of privacy, there is also the subject of “user accessibility” (Folkerts J., and Lacy. S 2001). User accessibility refers to what you are and are not able to see while on the Internet. A good example would be, what sites your children are allowed to go to. To prevent your children from going to inappropriate sites such as pornography sites, you can purchase a filter such as “Cybersitter or Clickchoice”. (Folkerts J., and Lacy. S 2001). This is especially important with the rise of pedophiles looking for victims by using the internet.
Like anything else in the world, the future of the computer is not certain. I do think that with all of the technological advancements in the world of science and mathematics, it will only get more advanced. The options that the computer creates are limitless. I often wonder what more will be possible to do online. I often wonder what more can be created that we as a society really need. I think that much of what will be created or discovered in the future of the computer will be advancements made for personal gain rather than what we really need.
The technology that we have in today’s world is a great tool for us to use now and in the future, but I hope that we, as a society, are able to stay on one side of the line without crossing over it. We always need to be aware that nothing can replace human interaction and the need for privacy. While I feel that it is a wonderful tool for education I also think that it is abused and over used as a form of entertainment. One thing is for certain, and that is that we owe a great deal of respect to the pioneers of the computer and what they have accomplished. Without them, the world as we know it would be a very different place.
- The Media in Your Life: An Introduction to Mass Communication, Second Edition by Jean Folkerts and Stephen Lacy; Boston
- A History of Modern Computing; Paul Ceruzzi; Massachusetts
- Great Men and Women of Computing; Donald Spencer; Ormand Beach, Florida.