Taming the Power of a PC
By Reid Goldsborough
Like many machines, personal computers have the ability to both empower and alienate. Only they do it better. On the one hand, PCs enable you to accomplish several tasks — what previously took many people — boosting your productivity and freeing you from needing to work with others. With the right hardware and software and with preferably a fast Internet connection, you can be your own company.
On the other hand, PCs promote an electronic shut-in mentality that, at its dehumanizing extreme, can lead to the pathology of teen-agers playing out in real life the killing contests glorified by video games.
Still, computer hardware continues to get smarter, cheaper and better.
Multifunction printers have been around for a while, combining three or four devices into one, but the latest are the greatest, letting you do more for less.
The well-regarded Lexmark X5150
You’ll still get slightly better quality from a dedicated printer or scanner compared with using an all-in-one device. And if one component malfunctions, you won’t be able to use the other components until you get the machine fixed. But you can’t beat the versatility.
Computer software has taken a similar path, with individual programs combining multiple tasks that previously took multiple programs. Office software goes by this name because it lets you perform most of the computing tasks you need to run a typical office.
Microsoft archrival Sun Microsystems would really like to see you use its products instead, and it sells a competing and largely compatible office suite for a lot less. StarOffice
The Internet lets you be even more independent. With a fast cable or DSL connection, you can act as your own support and research staff, getting answers quickly.
Have a question about your computer setup? Check out one of the support forums at Computing.Net
To help prevent the bad guys from getting to your data or taking control of your PC via the Internet, you need protection, and software for this has also applied the bundled approach.
The leading package, Symantec Internet Security
There’s a downside to all this computing versatility and the independence it can provide. In the ethereal glow of the screen, smitten with the machine’s power, you can potentially become enslaved and crippled. If you cede control to the technology rather than controlling it, you’ll become its fodder.
The Columbine disaster and more recent Oaklyn near-disaster, in which teen-agers treated their world as a giant shoot-’em-up video game, are just the most extreme results when an over-reliance on technology intersects with other problems. On an everyday level, interacting too much with a PC can cause you to interact too little with people, which can cause problems in your professional, academic or personal life.
The “I can do it myself” epiphany is enticing. But without the fellowship of others in the flesh and the stabilizing effect of community, we risk letting our demons out. As Dr. Joyce Brothers told me once, “Computers don’t replace face-to-face contact, the touch of a hand.”
As with much else, balance is key.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or
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