We take computers for granted but it wasn’t that long ago we were doing a lot of things we now do with computers by hand.
I suspect the world’s become a different place since the arrival of computers.
Let’s consider a few places computers are making a difference.
I remember the days when a bank teller wrote entries by hand in your passbook every time you deposited or withdrew money, and the long queues at the bank. When I started working in a bank, they were still using passbooks but a computer did the writing, and then passbooks became plastic cards and the computer sent you a monthly statement.
Then banks replaced tellers with safes attached to a computer (automated teller machines) which identified your account from that plastic card and dispensed cash into your hand.
Hardly anybody uses cash these days. We get paid electronically, we pay our bills online and use those plastic cards to make our purchases. There’s even talk of us becoming a cashless society, thanks to computers.
Where would we be without our smartphones? How often do we stop and consider that we’re walking around with a computer in our hand or in our handbag? And, isn’t it so easy to stay in touch?
It’s not just personal communications. Computers are all through the telephone system. We might not like speaking to a computer, choosing which button to press, or keying in our customer number when we call customer support but those things allow the computer to route our call to the appropriate person and display our information on that person’s screen when we reach the top of the queue.
It used to be accepted that nobody but a pharmacist could read a doctor’s handwriting. These days when you visit, the doctor spends most of the time typing and the script is printed by a computer. Not only does that make it easier for the pharmacist, it also creates a legible record that the next doctor can read.
But that’s not all computers are doing in health services, as you can read in 8 Ways Technology Is Improving Your Health by Karen Reed and in Extreme Ways Technology is Improving Our Health by Balance Me Beautiful.
Modern policing involves extensive use of computers. Take a look inside a patrol car the next time you see one parked in the street and think about the use police make of databases. It might not be like what you see on CSI just yet, but computers have given police an edge many of us (except crime writers like me) don’t think about.
For example, in response to a growing heroin problem in New York City, the NYPD recently announced it is using data collected by its officers on the street to predict where heroin will show up next in the city. Apparently, the NYPD has been using data collected by its officers to manage crime in the city for several years. Can you imagine them doing that without computers to collect, collate and analyze their data?
In the UK, police use a database called HOLMES 2 to analyze the massive amounts of data collected during investigations. That type of database makes information visible, instead of leaving it in one officer’s head or notebook, and allows more officers to join the dots.
I think it’s got to point where we’ve become dependent on computers, so we’d better make sure there’s an ongoing supply of renewable electricity, as I can’t see us going back to a pre-computer world. What do you think?
Peter Mulraney is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic, The New Girlfriend, and Everyday Business Skills series.