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But does it matter?

Yes. It does.

The only time it doesn't matter is if you take an extremely short-term view. American companies are, of course, famous for doing so; short-term profits mean more than long-term stability. And it's implicit in the American mindset of "I Want Mine Now". But it's not a fruitful long-term strategy.

In every other activity, it's implicit and taken for granted that the longer you do it, the better you become at it, essentially without end. In other words, an infinite scale of achievement. And it's assumed that a base level of competence must be achieved before you can realistically do anything in the field. You put forth effort, and gain facility. You put forth effort, and gain facility. You put forth effort, and gain facility. And it goes on and on. Why are computers assumed to be different?

Computers are not appliances

And they're unlikely to be in the near future. An argument could be made that they shouldn't be, either.

We already have appliance computers. Your car probably has one. Your microwave has a microcontroller. That mechanical puppy you got your 6-year old for Christmas, that walks and barks and wags its tail, has a computer in it. Your stereo, your tv, your answering machine. You're surrounded by specific-purpose computing devices, and those are appliances. They're entirely designed around the necessities of that purpose, and are so narrowly targetted that they don't require much knowledge to work.

But we're talking about general-purpose computers

It can play games. It can play music. It can play movies. It can calculate the value of pi to any number of decimal places you care to ask it for. It can write email. It can search thousands of pages of text. It's not a specific-purpose machine.

General purpose computers don't actually do any of these tasks. Their entire purpose is to be general purpose. All they do is accept instructions, in a language specifically designed to be as general as possible. A general purpose computer has a specific set of basic operations that can be combined in any way. Now, most people only use sets of instructions (we'll call them "programs", because that's what they are) that other people have pre-written for a specific purpose. But that doesn't change the base idea.

There are more things in heaven and on earth...

A specific-purpose computer has a specific (and small) set of possible inputs, and a specific (and small) set of possible outputs. A general-purpose computer has an enormous (practically infinite) set of possible inputs and a similarly-sized set of possible outputs. Anything can be manipulated in an almost endless number of ways. You can't make that trivial, and the harder you try, the more you succeed in doing nothing but destroying the very power and flexibility that brought you to computers in the first place.

Computers Are Hard

Accept it. Move on. Your life will be much simpler.

Accept that it'll take work. Accept that it'll take learning. Accept that it'll take trial and error. Accept that it'll mean just accepting things without understanding why until further down the road. Once you do that, you'll discover that learning computer technology isn't like opening an envelope and seeing what's inside; it's like watching a rose open, petal by petal... and no matter how long you watch, there's always another petal with another layer of beauty beneath it.

The end?

For now.

  1. Windows Causes Stupidity?
  2. Learning Curves
  3. Learning Curves :: User Effects
  4. Learning Curves :: System Effects
  5. Why It Matters