YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollectionsIvc

By Pat McCutcheon

October 12, 2001

A reader writes: By Pat McCutcheon

When Vice President Al Gore suggested we all get on the Information Superhighway, that it was the road to the future, I began my search for the on-ramp.

Diogenes, with his lamp, spent a lifetime searching for an honest man. Since I am by nature directionally challenged, it took me a few years to find the on-ramp to the ISH.

I enrolled in a computer class at IVC's extended campus in Brawley and began my journey to the future. We were an eclectic group of students. Generation G meets Gen-X. The college students were working toward credits for graduation, some students were already employed but seeking to better their chances for advancement, and the senior citizens wanted to keep up with their children and grandchildren. We all helped one another, and it was great. Our tour guide down the ISH was Melisa Vasquez, an instructor at IVC, a lovely lady who made the trip fun.


One gentleman was in a wheelchair and several older students were disabled, but we all were looking forward to going places we'd never been. Most of us "talked the talk," and some of us could "walk the walk," but we were all there to learn.

We had to learn computer-speak, which we did in the computer literacy segment. A "byte" isn't something a dog does. It represents one character in a document; a "hard copy" of a document is a paper copy, printed out on your laser, or inkjet, or dot matrix printer. We were learning a foreign language as surely as if we were learning Spanish or French.

We learned to "boot up" (turn on) our computers, identify the icons (pictures) of the software and hardware. The icons were familiar pictures: "My Computer" is a desktop computer; the recycle bin is a trash can where documents can be tossed, much as it is tossed into the trash if you're displeased with your work. Something can be retrieved from the recycle bin if you discover it was discarded in error, just as retrieving a piece of paper is possible from the trash. All of this is learned in later lessons, but we were given a nodding acquaintance to icons and creating files.

Some of us had e-mail accounts — you always learn the fun stuff first, even if you are a mature student! After all, we have to keep up with our children and grandchildren. Hardly anyone uses "snail mail" anymore. Personally, I like finding a letter my 7-year-old-wrote from camp. I still treasure it — all three lines.

Most of us were there to learn word processing — how to set up a document, using Microsoft Word. We added new terminology to our vocabulary: "Title bar, I-beam, insertion point, menu bar, status bar." First we had to open our program: click "start" to select our options. A list appeared from which we could click "programs," then click "Microsoft Word or "Microsoft Office," then "Microsoft Word."

Once we had the window opened, we saw words identifying parts of our screen. The "title bar" showed us the name of the document we were working on and the application we were using. We were learning to "construct" a document, so an "I-beam" would show us where to position the "insertion point" to add to an existing document, much as a construction worker walks an I-beam when constructing buildings to get to the point where he's working.

Then there is the mouse, a pointing — or peripheral device — we click to perform these tasks. (There are other peripheral devices — the "trackball" and a "pen" — but the mouse is the most commonly used.) Using the mouse is a special strategy in itself. Mine was a rat — whenever I'd click Mr. Mouse's pointer at whatever icon or tool I wanted, the pointer would disappear into cyberspace. (I dubbed it Mr. Mouse. Although I don't like mice, I decided to show it respect. Since it was determined to play tricks with me, I didn't want to "dis" it!) I finally learned not to drum my fingers on it while contemplating my next move, and the mouse decided to behave.

We were introduced to the Internet and search engines. We found a lot of interesting places and could do research on whatever appealed to us.

On a few occasions Ms. Vasquez gave us our heads and let us explore on our own. We all had different interests and enjoyed sharing what we learned. Our Native American classmate gave us a lot of information about his culture that we never knew. He was exploring his "roots" and some of it was new to him as well.

Before class we'd often discuss why we were taking computer classes. Our Native American classmate was a veteran of the second World War and said he'd been in "encryption" and computers couldn't be any more difficult. During the war messages were "encrypted," or coded much as they are in our computer technology. The only code the enemy couldn't break was the Navajo language. Yes, we learned a lot from one another.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles