Monday, October 1, 2007

#Technology - what a learning curve

In the mid 1990s I returned to RMIT to learn about advances in computer technology with the view of returning to work in libraries after a ten year break. What a learning curve!

My previous experience with computers in libraries had been at Monash University in the 1970s when a paper printout of student loans was generated overnight by a computer on the other side of the campus. During the three years before I left I had spent many hours checking forms completed for an inventory of the collection against a computer printout, filling in correction forms and then rechecking the new printout the following day. I left Monash before the first version of the computer catalogue went 'live'.

When I started the course my experience with computers was, to say the least, limited. At home we had a cast off Amstrad computer which had a habit of 'crashing' whenever I tried to save files so I used it as little as possible.

At RMIT we were introduced to cd-rom - a miraculous way of storing large amounts of data on a portable disc. We discussed the different type of files that could be stored and the possible uses that this technology could be used for, we designed projects and with great care tested the data because if we were actually to create a cd-rom it needed to go to a bureau where this would be done at great cost, though multiple copies would be made relatively cheaply.

The Internet was another mysterious world that developed during the course. At the time the use of the Internet was limited to research and educational institutions. One discussion was what would happen if this resource was made available to business and even to the public. The screen was black with green or orange text and searching for information was done via hierarchical lists. Then there was a great new development - Mosaic - with a more user friendly interface and images could be viewed. One evening a member of the class showed me a site she had discovered. We waited for ten minutes for an image to appear of a painting in an art gallery in Russian and we marvelled at the wonders of technology.

On another evening we were introduced to a strange concept called email and as an exercise we had to send an email to another member in the class. We sat there looking at the screens wondering why someone would bother doing such a thing when they could make a phone call.

In 2007 life is very different. We cannot imagine existing without email, we regularly use the Internet and curse when the site we want takes more than a few seconds to appear and we think nothing of burning our own cd-roms or dvds.

The world of technology is constantly changing and now we are exploring the next wave of communicating and sharing information online. Meanwhile the there will be other innovations around the corner. The technology adventure continues.

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