Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What are computers for?

When my father brought home our first computer, the Atari ST, my mind ran through myriad things I imagined it could do.  I understood that it was different from a game system, even though it could play games - it was supposed to be able to do things that a video game system couldn’t do.  The next question was “What is this for”?  I learned to program BASIC on it, drew dinosaurs with the mouse, and typed homework, but still felt I hadn’t figured it out.  What is supposed to be done on computers?
                The answer came later when my Dad installed America Online on a brand new Pentium 133mhz desktop computer.  I searched the web, wrote emails to my friend who was spending a semester abroad, and chatted in chat rooms.  The light switch went on and I realized that computers are for the Internet.  More accurately, computers are for communicating, whether over the Internet, cell phone networks, undersea sonar, or satellite radio.
                It is striking that the first instructions a computer runs on boot up are for installing the Basic Input Output System (BIOS), which enables the computer to communicate with the network, memory, disk, monitor, keyboard, etc.  No apps will run during this process, in fact the operating system won’t even start until the BIOS finishes loading.

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