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The right (and wrong) ways to choose a computer

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The right (and wrong) ways to choose a computer

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

I've received many letters from readers who are looking for a personal computer for their home. Many of these readers add the same kind of qualification: They'd like to buy the same type of computer their children are using in school.

I can think of no worse reason to choose one computer over another.

The computers used in typical American schools may very well be outdated. Many schools can't even afford to buy the books they need and pay their teachers a proper wage, let alone purchase modern computers. Some are even still using old Apple II models, which aren't made any longer.

But this is, for me, a minor point. What matters much more is the question of why families buy computers in the first place.

A home computer is an appliance that can make life more interesting and can make daily chores easier. It's a tool that can improve your writing skills and your financial abilities. It's a gateway to adventure, and an extension of the telephone that can connect you with a world you may never have explored before.

This is something children need to realize as much as you do. That's how they learn and grow.

Before you start shopping for a computer, write down a list of everything you'd be using the computer for. Will you use it for word processing? Nearly all home computers are. Will you use it to connect with online services such as Prodigy or America Online? That's becoming very popular.

Do you want to take advantage of the educational and recreational aspects of the latest addition to home computing, CD-ROM? In the next 12 months, more than half of all new personal computers are likely to come with CD-ROM devices built-in.

Notice that none of these things (and there are dozens of other uses) is specifically oriented toward children. In some ways, they are family activities. Some of them, such as the incredibly easy way you can do your taxes on a computer, are strictly for adults.

To your kids, of course, this is a children's world, and, if you ask them what they want to do with a computer, you'll get a kids' answer. Listen to them and take their desires into account.

They may, for example, want to play the games that are available on CD-ROM. Or they may want to log onto Prodigy or America Online. (And they'll probably do it before you do, since children aren't afraid to try something new. The rest of us are usually stodgy and wary of everything newfangled.)

Most important, keep in mind that children learn much faster than we adults do.

"My kids would have to learn how to use a different kind of computer," one reader told me. "That seems like too much to ask when they have everything else going on."

Not at all. I'd bet it wouldn't take a 9-year-old more than 10 minutes to learn how to use a different computer. I could be wrong, though; kids learn how to play new video games at the arcade in about three nanoseconds, and so they'd probably master your Mac or your Windows faster than you can say, "Don't press that key!"

Heck, let them press that key. They'll be masters of the new machine in no time.

And then they they can teach you.

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