My name in lights

In November 1986 I'd just arrived at Warwick University in the English Midlands, just outside industrial Coventry. Then, I never expected IT would have any role in my life, or New Zealand for that matter. I had just started an economics degree and aimed to be an accountant.

In November 1986 I’d just arrived at Warwick University in the English Midlands, just outside industrial Coventry.

Then, I never expected IT would have any role in my life, or New Zealand for that matter. I had just started an economics degree and aimed to be an accountant.

By 2001, aged 33 or 34, I expected I’d be married with children, owning a decent house, driving a large Ford and living in my home county of Yorkshire.

Fifteen years later and 12,000 miles away I have none of those things, but I guess my life with its travels and newspaper journalism has turned out to be far more exciting.

In 1986, my only experience of computers and IT was having a Sinclair Spectrum 64K as a schoolkid. I taught myself how to have my name flashing in different colours, but I lost patience with it and sold it soon after.

There were also the computing lessons at school on BBC computers learning a language called BBC Basic and I gained little from that as well.

At university, as part of the degree course we were shown the mainframe computers. Unix, Unisys, I can’t remember what they were called or what they did, but they too seemed pointless. What did they have to do with economics? They existed to make statistics, I later discovered.

I only gained some appreciation for computers in the late-80s while I became involved with the student newspaper and was shown what an Apple Mac could do. I was impressed by full page make-up on screen instead of messing about with typewriters.

My first newspaper, in Cumbria, still had typewriters when I joined in 1989, but two years later "direct input" using QuarkXpress arrived, complete with spell-checkers. Of course there was no web, and for news and weather I looked at teletext. As for e-commerce, Britain’s teletext systems also offered many cheap last-minute holidays, which I would phone up for and buy once or twice a year.

I didn't come across the web until visiting California in early 1996, noting that many TV and newspaper adverts would feature a website address.

However, I don’t recall actually using the internet and email until 1998, when I was back in New Zealand editing a paper in Thames and getting the young journalism graduate to show me how to use them. But the following year, editing a small daily in Northland, I was fully au fait in the web, using it to source overseas stories.

I used my first cellphone at the Waikato Times in 1995-96, one of a handful the paper then had. I felt so privileged to be allowed to take it home while "on call" one weekend. It was such a special device then, and at the time New Zealand seemed to have far more mobiles than the UK. Now everybody has one and are they special any more, even if they make life more convenient?

I used my first digital camera at Thames, and while picture quality has yet to catch up with film, they are easier to use -- even if I still don't do the data transference. I just point and click.

IT journalism was never on my horizon, either, but early last year Computerworld and I came together. Now, after 20 months here, I wouldn’t be without the web and email.

Hours are spent everyday sending and receiving messages, trawling the web for information, checking what stories have appeared elsewhere and so on. I even made my first online purchase recently -- a subscription to Time magazine.

Whatever happened to the fax machine? A few short years ago it was so important for sending/receiving information, but now it sits almost unwanted at the other side of the building, as we journos prefer to use email.

IT has been a boon and a bane to the media. It has intensified the competition, offering another "free" alternative to newspapers. But at the same time the new technologies means news, or should I say "content", can be gathered, processed and distributed so much faster and cheaper, either electronically or traditionally.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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