By Suzie Vyletel
I have very fond memories of the first time I remember using a computer. In elementary school, we rotated our “special activities” daily, whether that was going to music class, gym, the library, or computer lab. Everyone loved going to the computer lab because after a few minutes of typing practice with rubbery, orange keyboard covers that prevented cheating, we had free time. Some kids played Oregon Trail, others played typing games, but I loved KidPix.
KidPix is an art program that you can draw pictures with, and has neat features like a rainbow pen and spray paint that I spent many class periods playing around with and trying to draw myself as a mermaid. The program could be classified as new media because it was always accessible, and could be personalized. When I logged on to my account in the computer lab, those types of programs were always there. I could pick and choose what tools were displayed on my screen, such as the eraser and shapes tool.
The internet I used was ubiquitous, always there and able to be accessed by me and my classmates at the same time. When we did research for our solar system project, the same web pages about Neptune were available to me day after day. I could click on a link somewhere in the article that took me to another web page about Neptune’s moons, demonstrating the networked aspect of new media. From there I could print or email the article to myself at home to access once again on my family’s desktop.
I still remember when the librarian came to talk to our class about doing research. She taught us how to filter search results by using quotation marks and commas, which allowed us to pull only the content we wanted or needed. That was perhaps the biggest “AHA!” moment for me–realizing the power I had to control what I saw on the web. It was a game-changer for me, and from then on, I felt more in control of my internet usage. Even though I knew how to change my desktop background and the color of the menu bar, I felt like filtering search results was sort of cheating the system in a way. That brings up the question of whether or not it is fair for internet users to bypass other potentially useful webpages and articles that are out there, because this may not be democratic and fair to all users’ information. Another question that this raises is do we and should we trust the computer’s search filters? Is it better than sifting through results on our own–would we miss something ourselves, or does the computer potentially miss things that we would have found useful?
Those computer lab days were the only times I really used a computer back then. I really didn’t “need” the internet for anything at all–my homework was handwritten, research for projects was done with real books at the school library, and though my dad created an email account for me, it was years before I used it. Our household had one desktop computer that sat in the basement for my mom to occasionally plug her iPod into or for my sister and I to play a computer game. Now, we have three laptops that my family moves around the house with constantly, with smartphones also in hand, using new media more of the day than not. It is interesting to note how my perception of computers has evolved from being a fun, extra activity a few times a week during school to an absolutely necessary part of my school, work, and social life.