3.636 humanists and computers, cont. (79)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 25 Oct 89 17:33:41 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 636. Wednesday, 25 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 24 Oct 89 20:33:00 EDT (16 lines)
From: "Leslie Z. Morgan" <MORGAN@LOYVAX>
Subject: RE: 3.631 humanistic education and computers, cont. (81)

(2) Date: Wed, 25 Oct 89 14:02 EDT (43 lines)
Subject: Computers and Humanities

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 89 20:33:00 EDT
From: "Leslie Z. Morgan" <MORGAN@LOYVAX>
Subject: RE: 3.631 humanistic education and computers, cont. (81)

The discussion of computers, education, and liberal arts school (Reed and
its cohorts) has really hit home. We are discussing computerizing, and
among the basic tenets of the program is "access for every student to
computing" -- which is rapidly, in certain uses, sounding like REQUIRED
use of the computer by EVERY student, regardless of his/her field or
interests. I myself am worried by the "big brother" sound of the
project. Any other reactions? Is anyone at an institution where this
development (access ==> requirement) has occurred?
Leslie Morgan
Dept. of Foreign Langs.
Loyola College in Maryland
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------49----
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 89 14:02 EDT
Subject: Computers and Humanities

As a relative newcomer to Humanist, I may be speaking in ignorance of
issues discussed in the past. I am nonetheless intrigued by many of the com-
ments about lack of use of computers in the humanities. It seems to me that
one issue is missing from the recent discussions on this subject, namely the
type of computer and system used. While I have no cause to laud any system
over any other, I will not be the first to point out that MS-DOS is difficult,
abstruse, arcane, recondite, and a whole bunch of further synonyms, some of
them not terribly polite. Of course humanists are as capable of using it as any
others, but let's face it, MS-DOS is time-consuming. The fact that it is not
easily grasped leads not only to wasted time but increased numbers of errors.
The secretaries in my department have spent hundreds of hours learning
and trying to fix problems with MS-DOS programs. This is a considerable waste
of resources. I wonder if other departments have the same experience, simply
because the administration insisted on purchase of MS-DOS machines, i.e. IBMs
or compatibles? Having used an IBM for a year I gave up and switched to
Macintosh, which was thought by most IBMers to be a mere toy. I would be the
first to admit that there are problems with the Macintosh and with Apple in
general, not least the price of the machines. But to insist on IBM because 1)
it is better known or because 2) it is cheaper is 1) illogical or 2) a false
economy. The cost of using a computer, however one calculates it, must be de-
termined over the life of the equipment. Administrators like to hide costs, of
course, so if it takes a secretary a hundred hours to do something which might
be done in two, who cares? No one will ever notice! (At least not in a univer-
I am obviously speaking only of microcomputers in the past five years,
not including the IBM PS/2, which I know little about. I am also not speaking
of other micros which I do not know. But it strikes me that Apple was onto
something when it introduced the Macintosh interface, because many people took
to it immediately, and of course it became widely imitated. Surely if it is pos-
sible to introduce a machine (or user interface) which is easier to use, that
is inherently desirable, provided there are no other serious drawbacks.
I therefore wonder whether part of the problem in introducing compu-
ters to people lies in which computer is introduced. DOS may be much improved
now (I don't know), but it was execrable a few years ago.
I close with an irrelevant (and certainly irreverent) coincidence. I
wonder whether Microsoft was aware when it created DOS that in one language
at least, the word "dos" means "idiot"! (No offense to IBM users, many of whom
are my friends. I just cannot see the basic IBM system for micros being the
best first choice for humanists.)