What computers do

As knowledge workers, we do most of our work by thinking.

Productive thinking mostly takes one of two forms. Let us explore both these kinds of tasks with the example of writing this blog.

To write each post, I

– Compose them on a .txt file on my laptop

– I open up a browser and navigate to my WordPress.com site

– I create a new post, paste my text inside and save it

– I edit this post and schedule it for publishing later

Steps 2 and 3 are ‘routine’ steps. With every post, this process is the same. Doing them occupies my thinking, but are rather mechanical and thoughtless. As a consequence, I have automated these steps using a computer script. This script opens the browser and transfers unpublished drafts from my local machine to my WordPress site, so that I can edit them later.

Steps 1 and 4 are ‘creative’ steps. They require my creative input to be performed. If I don’t do them myself, they don’t get done well, and therefore, I cannot automate them away.

Computers are great at automating routine tasks, so that our minds are freed up to do more creative work. As they have gotten more sophisticated, they are capable of taking over more complex tasks that are, nevertheless, routine. Now, they also assist us creative tasks to some degree – the parts of this task that have a routine component to them.

We often think of computers as merely multimedia devices that can process information and play media. They are, however, better understood as extensions of human thought.

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