This is a question I am asked all the time by a much younger generation of journalists, who struggle to understand why older writers and news editors were still using MS-DOS to program their PCs.The question Why is my computer screen black?is quite common.
They seem to think this all started with the mass onslaught of iPhone and Android devices with touchscreens, email, and cloud-based file storage that are completely alien to the kind of journalists that were using DOS.
But ask them to Google this and they will find that much of the technology that young journalists use – email, social media, cloud-based file storage – has been around for many years.
The notion of “a magic box” is no longer the paradigm.
There was a time when my computer screen, which is mostly black, would go dark at the bottom of the screen. Windows would lock. This would be followed by the dreaded “DOS boot-up”.
While a true Windows user – who still somehow can’t turn the thing on – might have been able to get it to boot again, most users would think that, of course, their computer is broken.
Now, I can operate my computer without a mouse or a trackpad, but it was a lot more difficult in the old days.
You had to find some kind of auto-boot sequence or slide down a list of auto-start commands. And, even then, they would often be missing words or switch off after Windows went into standby mode.
The only logical reason for this behavior was that this is what Microsoft had left in its legacy of computer code for DOS.
If you wanted to play games on your PC, you would enter code into the DOS terminal, which actually looked very much like the Command Prompt on the Mac, except that it was called MS-DOS.
Why is my computer screen black?
The terminal itself would have keys that would prompt you for commands such as: “Start Gaming“, “Run”, and “Read!”.
So, when I booted up my system, it was usually because I had to enter this text to get it to boot up and then enter another command to actually turn on the computer and start it.
I have been using computers for more than two decades, but I am just now figuring out how to launch software like Skype or play online games without MS-DOS or Windows turning off at the bottom of the screen.
But I learned to do this after, of course, needing to find the correct text to enter, and after several failed attempts to type in a single character in search of that elusive auto-boot sequence.
It’s only now that I am coming to terms with the obvious: Windows, like all major operating systems, now operates in a semi-automated fashion, meaning you need to type just one command, or two, or three.
So, there’s no more hitting “Enter” repeatedly, waiting for a prompt to appear or for a computer to catch up with your desire.
You just use the same keyboard commands you are used to. You keep your fingers on the keys, as instructed, and you type one command at a time.
It may sound simple, but when you are used to tapping away on a screen with a mouse or a trackpad and seeing the computer respond immediately, it can take you a while to re-learn.
Not having to use a mouse or even being constantly aware that you are moving your hand onto the mouse to click and move around the screen is freeing.
Another change is that although we do have cloud-based file storage, we still have to spend most of our time accessing those files locally.
For all intents and purposes, an email message or a Facebook post from your correspondent is just that – a message or post – unless it is saved to a specific folder, which is different for the user than it is for the service.
Rather than treating the computer as a single point of failure, we have become conditioned to think of the cloud as an ever-present resource that we can access whenever we want.
Having now had some practice, I am realizing how archaic the idea of all this stuff in the cloud is.
The truth is, everything I used to be able to use in the cloud – images, music, games, documents, and so on – I can now access in the cloud too.
It is just that I prefer to use the local versions.
It’s amazing how we can all get used to new Technology, but our attitudes can be so deeply entrenched that the changes still catch us by surprise.
It is very odd that we are so dependent on computers, yet we are so resistant to change.
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