My Media Artifact

My life changed significantly when I purchased my first computer; a Gateway desktop with a fifteen-inch screen and a state-of-the-art micro-processor.  It seems like such a long time ago, 1993, and I can’t remember the exact date.  The computer was delivered to our front door by UPS; in four boxes.  I was so excited to get the boxes into the house that I tripped on the front steps; there are two steps leading to the front door, and I tripped over the first step and dropped the box containing the monitor.  The monitor was so well packed that it wasn’t damaged; however, the box looked like the package Jim Carey delivered in the first “Ace Ventura” movie.  Once we got the boxes inside I had to unpack them and assemble the computer.  The first box I opened was the box with the monitor in it.  The monitor was wrapped in plastic and there was Styrofoam around all of the corners.  The box itself was a corrugated “double-wall” box designed specially for delicate contents.  I knew this was a specially designed box because of my experience working at a box manufacturer in Tracy.  Double-wall corrugated was a double thick box, as the name implies it had double the protection of a “single-wall” box.  No wonder the monitor was undamaged.  One box unpacked; three more to unpack and I could assemble and start using this wonderful new computer.

The central processing unit (CPU) was a rectangular prism that was about twenty inches wide, twenty inches deep, and six inches tall.  The CPU looked big, even by early 1990s standards; it was heavy too.  The CPU was covered in plastic and packed in Styrofoam, just like the monitor.  I unpacked the next two boxes and laid all of the contents on the floor in our “computer room.”  My wife and I had cleaned, painted, and furnished one of our bedrooms to accommodate the new computer.  Looking back, we were preparing our household for the arrival of a new family member.  In a way, the new computer was a member of the family.  The directions to set up the computer were on a large plastic card.  It was easy to follow the directions; they were all numbered from one to ten.  I just read the directions step by step and attached the cables to the appropriate device.  It took about an hour to get all the components connected.  I assembled the computer by myself; although, thinking back, I should have had my wife and older son help me.  Connecting the various parts would have been a learning experience for both of them; at the time, I was not a teacher, I was a businessman and time was money so in my mind it was more efficient and cost-effective to assemble the computer by myself .  The process of unpacking and assembling this Gateway computer took about two hours; another hour was spent starting it up and learning how to run a game.  This computer was not connected to the internet; the family used it primarily for games, checkbook record keeping, and word processing.  I still remember the first night we used it.  The game we first played, as a family, was a wild-west cowboy game; each player had a pistol and the object was to shoot all the bad guys.  Total unpack to run time: three hours.  This does not include the time to learn how to use the word processor or the checkbook software; maybe another ten to twelve hours?

The reason I described, in detail, my first experience with a home computer was to contrast this description with my most recent purchase of a Hewlett-Packard (HP) notebook computer.  First of all, I picked up the notebook at Best Buy; it was not delivered.  Secondly, it came in one box (two if you count the external hard-drive I purchased).  I merely opened the box, took out the notebook, raised the lid, and turned the power on. The time to unpack it and prepare it for internet use (including web browsing, anti-virus installation, and email) was about thirty minutes.  Compare this to the time it took to implement the Gateway; thirty minutes versus three hours plus.

My life has been changed, significantly, with the use of digital artifacts.  I was, initially, amazed when I began reading “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow.  The school provided laptop, the computer game “Harajuku Fun Madness”, the high tech references to hacking the school laptop, the “gait scanner”, and dozens of other digital vocabulary at first sounded odd.  But then, as I read further, I began to feel less anxious and the digital jargon, that is such a necessary part of this story, became easier to understand.  I think my comfort level with new digital media (NDM) has grown exponentially in just the last ten months.

My journey to computer literacy fluency began sixteen years ago, but my journey to NDM literacy (not fluency) began just ten months ago; the trip to NDM literacy fluency will be ongoing until I can’t raise my hands to the keyboard or utter a sound into a voice recognition device that can relay my commands to my, by then, “little finger-sized” computer.  Ten months ago I scrawled class notes on pieces of paper; how old non-digital media (ONDM) is that?  Today, I pound my keyboard in class, at home, at hotels, Starbucks, on trains (BART) instead of using the ONDM.  And, I am completely comfortable with this new media; actually, what is wrong with the word medium?  Instead of boxing all of my class notes and reading material from my classes as well as syllabi or other artifacts of school life, I archive notes, readings, and, when available digitally, syllabi on my external hard-drive.  Again, I am comfortable with NDM, but it was an uncomfortable journey sometimes.

I remember the first time my laptop (pre-notebook computer) obtained a virus.  My initial feelings were that I had been punched in the stomach; but, I knew that I had to get through this obstacle.  The next time my laptop became infected with a virus I was prepared; fortunately, I had backup procedures in place and my data loss was minimal.  I cleared the contents of my laptop and started from scratch; thanks to the system backup discs provided with the laptop.  This is another illustration of my growing NDM literacy and the comfort level that has been achieved; using and learning about NDM.

I have a poster on the wall of my classroom and it reads, “Why set goals?  Because if you’re aiming for nowhere, that’s just where you’ll go.”  I don’t think many of my students understand what it means.  My participation in popular culture began sixteen years ago with the purchase of a desktop computer.  I didn’t have a goal back then; just a curious desire to learn what all the interest was about computers.  I set a goal to learn how to use and to teach with new technology; computers.  Today, having made a goal, my perspective has changed; I am now on the verge of participating in new media culture in a way I never would have imagined.  So, my next goal is to teach freshman level composition utilizing NDM; in particular web logs, or “blogs.”  If you don’t set a goal to keep current with media artifacts you’ll end up so far behind (nowhere) it will be difficult to nearly impossible to catch up.

1 comment for “My Media Artifact

  1. Mariana
    November 18, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I love this story, Mike. This reminds me of highly elaborate process my family went through when we got our first computer. That was in the mid-eighties. It was one of the first Apple computers, complete with the green flashing cursor and my very own version of The Oregon Trail!!!

    I had a programming teacher who was at the forefront of the computer revolution; he was one of the first “engineers” who made a whopping six-thousand dollars a year (yes, I said ‘a year’) putting and pulling data cards in and out of computers that took up entire rooms.

    It’s incredible how far we’ve come.

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