Friday, December 28, 2012

Computers at Play

I got a tablet and a new phone in the past few months and, true to form for such things, have found them heretofore much more useful for consuming than for creating. That coupled with my recent surgery has led me to be pretty lazy about responding fully to email and the like. I like the idea of a small device like a tablet or a phone taking the place of my laptop which is far heavier, but until recently, I just couldn't get as much done on either device as I could a regular laptop computer. This is one of those times when I decide not to give in to the way things are. There are times when it's better to do just that, but this seemed a silly enough challenge to take on. And the solution is so simple. I got a wireless keyboard to go with the thing. Obvious, I know, but still lovely. And so tonight I am typing on that keyboard, watching the words pop up on my phone's screen and marvelling at the possibilities

Here's the thing: I've been using computers for a long time. The first machine I touched was back in 1978 or '79 in fifth grade when Scott Jackson showed me the school's lone computer hidden in a back room of the library and available only to the gifted and talented kids. I've kept using them since. An IBM PC at a friend's house baffled but intrigued me. At Clarkson, before I failed out, I had a dual disk drive computer with no hard drive and thought it the best writing machine I had ever seen. I used more IBM PCs at community college, then bought my own 286 for something like $1300 and had that for years and years. Along the way I got interested in Linux, learned a little about the insides of the computer, upgraded to a used 386 I helped assemble, and then moved to a Pentium machine running Windows 95. That was a thrill.

Since then I've had a string of computers, each more powerful than the previous one, each able to do things I couldn't have imagined back in middle school. And now I have this phone that is quite a bit more powerful than the computer I first bought and is connected to the Internet. Think about that. The ability to connect to the Internet is itself a magical transformation and the fact that we can do it on something that fits in a pocket and does most anything else we would like, well that's just incredible.

There are still things that are not the way I would like them to be. As I type this, the screen keeps doing odd things and I can't hit enter twice to make new paragraphs without having to backspace over a character or two. Odd stuff, really, but that's the way it is. I could get my laptop out and do this the way I've always done, but there is excitement for me in trying to do something in a new way. It's a way to play.

I've talked about play before, but it's worth thinking about again. I'm learning that play is the essence of creativity. For me, creation comes out of play much more than out of work. Sure, there is work involved in the process, but it is playful work that takes me into good places. I don't slave away at creation, I play at it. I developed my sense of play in many ways, but certainly one way was my "work" with computers. Doing silly things like trying to get my phone to work as a writing device puts me in a position to challenge myself, find others who can help explain the strange behavior of the browser, and experiment. All of that is good for the brain, good for the soul.

I'm one hundred words away from the finish and I can say that it has not been a resounding success. I need to fix some glitches (like why it takes two presses of the backspace button to get backspacing started) and figure out a few shortcuts. In the end, I may decide that it's not worth it to try and force this at this time. That will be okay too because the point isn't to make this work so much as to have this play. I can always use the laptop to get something done, but, really, where's the fun in that? For now, I'll keep playing at different ways to write on.