Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The More Things Change...

I had some time so I decided to weed out some things from my file cabinets. I'm just a wee bit of a sentimentalist and have kept some of my favorite papers from back when I was in college. I ran across a speech I wrote for a rhetoric class in 1971, and it proved for me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Back in the dark ages of 1970 Queens College, CUNY began using a computer for student registration in courses. People had great hopes for that computer. It was going to make life simpler, quicker and more accurate. Uh huh. Below the opening paragraph of that speech.

On Monday morning, September 13, Herbert Jones prepared to enter Queens College as a lower freshman. On Tuesday, September 14, at 4:00 pm, Herbert Joners was certified as an upper senior and was duly graduated. On Wednesday, September 15, at 9:00 am, Herbert began registering for graduate courses. On Sunday, September 19, at 12:30 pm, Herbert's proud parents attended a University convocation at which Herbert was awarded a PhD, with honors. A doctor friend of mine has suggested that Herbert's brain should be dissected so that society may receive some benefit from learning about what gave him his super intellect. It is my feeling that we would benefit more from dissecting the computer that was, in truth responsible for his phenomenal success.***

The middle of the speech dealt with my tales of woe in trying to get registered in the courses that I wanted and needed, not the courses the computer inexplicably decided it was going to give me. The ending paragraph was as follows:

Sadly, and with the knowledge that I had been defeated once and for all, I headed for the cafeteria. On the way there I ran into Herbert Jones, my friend of the miraculous intellect. It seems that he was on his way up to Jefferson Hall, having received a letter from the Registrar's Office informing him that, as he had not attended his Freshman Orientation Workshop, his registration was being cancelled forthwith. We parted, each a bit more humble for the experiences we had been through.

There has yet to be a week in my life since writing that speech that I have not heard someone, somewhere complain about the foibles of a computer out to get them. 39 years have passed and yet that speech could have been written today. We supposedly live in a computerized world, one that runs more efficiently than the world pre-computers. And yet, find a totally screwed up situation somewhere and computers are going to be involved in some way.

Yes, I know, it's not computers that make mistakes; it's the people who work on them who do. So just maybe we ought to be concentrating less on our computer systems and a lot more on improving the people who work with them and use them.

***This scenario has played out in every school I have ever taught at since the time of the speech. Some of you may well have been the victims of computer malfeaseance--or maybe the beneficiaries of a computer's occasional bout of largesse.


Anonymous said...

Two decades out of college and the school's computer is still screwing around with me. Every time I need a transcript sent out for a job interview I pray that the computer will get it right this time. So far it hasn't. Been back to the school a dozen times to try and get things corrected. They just correct the old error and make a few new ones. Nothing like being a bio major and having your name come up on a transcript that shows you as a French major.

Weird thing is that the school has a well thought of computer science department. Wish someone from there would tackle the main computer.

rejewvenator said...

The gains made thanks to computers are astonishing. The foul-ups you describe used to require twenty different humans typing, retyping, filing, and list-making. Now those same foul-ups are achieved with only two or three humans!