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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Computer-free days: Could you cope?
It's back to pens and post-it notes for a weekly "computer-free day" for the inhabitants of Hirata, western Japan.
Mayor Mitsuyasu Ota has declared that all-official documents, proposals and correspondence should be written by hand.
So could you face life without computers, even for a day? Do we rely on computers far too much?
Or do you think that it would be a blessing in disguise and that "computer-free days" should be adopted world-wide?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Why is it, when I am on holiday in places like Bali and Java the cyber-cafes are full of westerners? Can't they log off for a few days?
Alan Greep, UK
I suppose Mayor Mitsuyasu Ota will then have someone "scan these hand written documents" into a computer system!
There are people whom Americans call "computer nerds". I thought they didn't exist until I saw them myself in America. All those people's joys and troubles are in that electronic box. They can't live an hour without computers. It's very sad, because most of them are only teenagers, wasting their best years.
Your correspondent "Richard, UK" says, "paperless offices are impossible".
I worked in a paperless office in the RAF for many years (though we did have paper in the toilets).
It needed only reasonable planning and it worked very well.
Working for a local computer firm who sells and maintains computer equipment I would have to say it's a bad idea. On the other hand, if I could have a day off work on that day?
I could not live without a computer. I've become so accustomed to automation that I'm annoyed when I have to speak to a real person.
I always enjoy my "computer free" days when I don't go to work and also don't do anything at home. What's the big deal? Of course when I'm working, and that often involves computers, then it's essential for my work and allows what really could not be accomplished without computers.
I don't think we rely on computers too much. Rather, we rely on the assumption that humans will put computers to intelligent and efficient use and that sufficient resources (human and machine) will be made available to accomplish this.
Choose the tools that make your task most simple. If the complicated computer really simplifies your task - use it.
In some posh Australian kids have to use their laptop for almost everything (e.g. to make a drawing that describes the music they listen to). This shows clueless object-orientation of the creators of the curriculum and this object-orientation is transferred to the poor students - while they are missing out on music education etc.
I am disabled and the growth of computing in industry has opened up work opportunities that hitherto would be closed, long may the computer prosper.
I'm an 18 year old student currently on a year scholarship in Japan. For me a computer is an essential. It is my main mode of communication between family friends and me. It also allows me to keep informed with what is happening in the rest of the world. Without computer access I'd have a far harder time.
For starters, this web page wouldn't be very successful without computers...
Computers are an integral part of mine and many people's lives and work, some of us CANNOT work without them!
> I'm a pensioner, and only learnt computer handling when the local library gave up card-indexing! Of course I can manage without it, but I couldn't do all that it helps me with. Just word-processing, for instance: I am currently working hard to assist a young friend falsely accused of a serious crime. Handling the documentation relating to his case would be impossible without my Applemac. That's an important matter of justice.
Does my computer enhance or rule my life? Well I am new to this computer lark, and at the moment I spend too much time in front of it.
It has, however enhanced my life in many ways: I now have more access to the outside world, (I suffer from anxiety and sometimes find it difficult to get out and about. So I am now in touch with relatives I have not seen in many years, and also have an e-mail pen-pal in Germany.
Yes, I have recently started celebrating by Computer-free day i.e. Saturdays. Since rest of the week I am on web for around 14 hours daily it generates a false sense of happiness so I keep one day to be free of mails, sites , research etc and I spoil my self!
Good idea eh!
No. Maybe for a couple of days, but not any more. My symbiotic relationship with the PC would break, and I would die slowly and painfully.
The advent of computers has, far from making life easier, created a climate of an amazing amount of "paperwork". So much for the 'paper-free-society'! I am constantly asked for more and more in-depth reports on the progress of everything. Please, please, please let us get on with the jobs we were trained for and leave the computer-generated paper-work to those who wish to spend their time goggling at a screen!
Since getting my PC, I have collaborated online on a piece of music with someone I've never met who lives on the other side of the planet, I've opened a bank account and found a job. All from the comfort of my studio at home!
Sorry I need it !! I get all uptight even when it is down for a short while.
I am Games Chairman of a Lawn Bowling Club and do all the club's work on the computer plus I am able to get news from all the world over including the BBC. It can't get any better !!!!
The computer is just a kind of throwing stick or "Bicycle for the mind" as Steve Jobs famously said. If used properly (which implies training) it can enable you to do more, better and quicker. If not, you will fall off, and maybe hurt yourself a little.
This is an old story, with yet another new product. As usual the real enemies are fear and ignorance.
My computer has become a blessing to my family and me. I am a virtual assistant and work out of my home. Recently my mother, who lived in another State, suffered a heart attack and now needs constant care.
I was able to pack up my business (no bulky file folders and briefcases) and fly to her side without missing a beat on my job. Now she lives with us and my "computer office" is the room next to her's. I wouldn't want to live a day without my computer because it not only provides me an income, it now gives me a means to keep in touch with a world wide support system of other people that care for their aging parents in their home.
I think my computer helps me in my life - I use it daily for e-mail internet access and personal finances etc. I could do without it but find it enhances my life rather than rules it.
Computers, technology and affluence are wonderful but anyone can turn on a computer or buy style.
If you cannot survive without technology or comfort for a week, I suggest you get a life.
The above comments are not directed at anyone dependent on technology for medical survival.
The funny thing is that there are indeed people who will only
eat unsliced bread, only drink unfiltered
wine, only eat organic vegetables. These people are those who have a sort of inverted snobbery about technological progress.
To insist on doing things the old-fashioned way is
essentially a luxury that only the rich can
afford. I bet that Japanese
Mayor doesn't intend to hand-write all
his own letters. He will make some poor
civil servant do it for him.
I would not even consider a day without using my computer. As I also depend on using it for my hobby, which is astronomy, it saves a lot of late nights outside and cloud chasing.
It's doubtless that there were similar luddite comments made about the telephone and automobiles, both of which are now hard to imagine life without. It's up to us as a society and as individuals to shape the way that technology enables us to communicate. Enforcing "computer free days" is a prime example of sticking your head in the sand.
When we found out that slicing bread was a good idea I don't remember people declaring unsliced-bread-days.
I have just returned to England after 10 years away. One massive change I see is that people's inter-personal skills appear to have vanished. Whenever we need to speak to someone on the phone, for example, the person cannot seem to be able to have a normal reasoned conversation anymore. It appears that this is due to relying upon their computer screen to answer questions put to them. They do not "think" for themselves anymore, they cannot be reasoned with. If the answer is not on their screen, then no answer will be given. It's that simple. Computers are taking over our country, simply because we let them.
Most people in the Western world today are poorly educated in handwriting, and their letters are nearly unreadable. Imagine what that means for official documents. Therefore, the word processor is a blessing for both the writer and the reader.
My computer links me to friends at a pace I want and at the confidentiality levels I need.
I no longer have to worry about "re-sealed" and "snail pace mail" envelopes by my secretary. These are some of the loopholes in pen and paper which only the computer can solve.
Why do people say that others need to "get a life" if they are always involved in computers? I work in IT on good money and I met my other half over the internet (he runs his own very successful internet company) so believe me, we do have a life, a very good one.
Last year I had a holiday on one of the game reserves in South Africa for a week. There were no computers, radios, televisions etc. The atmosphere was peaceful, quiet and relaxed. The whole community was communicating which is something people find difficult in London, especially when there is an email facility.
Colin Steward, UK
I could cope without my computer but I do not think that I would want to be without it for very long.
I have grown to rely on the Internet for communicating with friends and family. Some live on the West Coast of North America and some live in Britain.
The Computer is an excellent tool for researching numerous subjects and invaluable for keeping up to date with world news.
Of course hand written letters and cards are very nice to send and receive and I try to use old fashioned communication styles, from time to time.
However, I am very glad that my sons badgered me into learning to use a computer.
I find it useless, because I'm sure they could not afford more than one day without computers. It seems to be rather an attempt to show how people really depend on computers than on any other thing.
I am involved in the research field and have to use computers about 6 hours a day. It would be good to have such a day so my eyes could take a good rest.
John R, Texas, USA
Computers are a working tool not a life enhancement. A beer and some good craic at the weekend with a real human being are far superior to any virtual nonsense.
With Computer Free days, Leave the Car at Home days and days without mobile phones why not go for Live in a Mud Hut day?
I'm sick of people saying that those of us who use the computer all the time need to get a life. I've virtually replaced watching the TV with using the computer. This is far more pro-active and stimulating. One might say those people who watch TV every night need to get a life.
Steve McCoull, England
At home, I often go for days without even turning the thing on. That doesn't really improve or worsen my "quality of life" as a whole. At work, our office has become so dependent on the wretched things, that people are apt to panic when the lights go out and we lose power. "What will we do without the computers?" goes the panicked cry. Get your pens and paper out! This office has been around for a score of years and we used to get on fine without them.
Last year I was in a small town in Nepal that consisted of a few concrete and tin buildings on either side of a rutted earth road that served as the main street. One of the buildings had been converted into an Internet cafe and was full of Western tourists, which seemed odd to me.
Computers are a tool, just like a screwdriver or a pencil - they are not invading entities from another planet! It should be remembered that the term "computer" covers everything with any kind of processing on board, from a mobile phone to the computers that predict the weather. Can we live without our PC? Probably yes. Can we live without computers in general? Not without undoing every advance in technology of the last century.
John Cole, USA
How would you be able to read this if you didn't have one?!!
You should see my handwriting! I like to use a fountain pen when doing "Real" writing but I am not decipherable in normal situations. I was held back a great deal at school because of my handwriting. Although, I have a considerably higher than average IQ, many doors were closed to me on the strength of my lack of physical co-ordination. The PC is a boon and I only wish it had been around when I was at school.
I work for the United Nations Development Programme for Afghanistan. Even in a country least developed as Afghanistan, computers have made work so easy that without them one would have to stay home!!
Maybe a ban on printing for one day might have a bigger effect. Computers are there to help your work/ life. Unfortunately many are used to speed up the paper mess they had to begin with.
Albert Devakaram, India
Computers should only be tools to help you do your job more effectively and should not take over your life.
I work in IT, but I have now sold my PDA and gone back to a Paper diary. The paper area is bigger than the screen and has better definition, which is less hard on the eyes, and does not demand a printer to produce hard copy.
I don't see the point. It's like saying let's have a day without books or bicycles or bread. Like each of these, computers simply add to our lives - they help activate our minds, share insights and information, work more productively and make connections. We embrace things like books, bread and computers because we recognise and exploit their virtues
Dave Jones, UK
I have worked in offices where it takes some staff (usually men) longer to write a simple letter on a computer than it does by hand because they insist on playing with all the little fonts and colours and sticking little pictures in there. The results tend to look a mess as well as taking longer.
I have 2 computer-free days a week - at the weekend. During this time I indulge in conversation, practice calligraphy by writing a few letters and exercise my brain by doing arithmetic without assistance from calculators. In this day and age when nearly everything is geared by computers, there appears to be no contingency plans for occasions when computers do fail and we have to do the job manually.
No computers for a day? I'd have to do some work or something instead!
Gary Holcombe, UK
As a designer I feel that computers are worth their weight in gold but I also feel that they are grossly over-used and we are becoming unnaturally reliant on them. Let's never forget about pen and paper!
What do they do on the day after the computer free day - spend the whole day transferring scribbled notes onto their PCs so they can get on with their jobs again?
I'm a web designer so without my machine I'd be a bit snookered.
I'd use the day to plan out my sites on paper (as normal) but the next day I'd be twitching for my computer again.
Why stop with computers? Let's have a pen and paper free day when we all communicate using hand-etched clay tablets which we bake on an open fire in the back garden. It might slow communications a bit but think of the improvement in quality as you try to squeeze meaning into just a few marks in the damp clay. A whole new industry would be created overnight.
Norman Campbell, UK
I'm a professional software engineer and I can tell you that computerisation often causes massive inefficiency, because people no longer understand the system that they're involved with. Days when people had to run things by hand, coupled with good feedback to management, could improve many systems and procedures.
I work for a software company providing back office trading systems for many of the large banks and brokerages in the city, so it might prove a little tricky. This industry certainly relies on computers a great deal, because of the enormous amount of data that needs to be processed. Trying to work out the profit and loss or gross initial margin for ten thousand daily trades, a thousand clients and brokers, month to date in Japanese yen would take a lot of time, and a very big sheet of paper!
Besides, how would I write in to Talking Point?!
05 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
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