We talk about technology in each episode of “Technology for You and Me”. Undoubtedly, the most common form in which technology manifests in day-to-day life is as the computer. What does this machine really mean to us? To some like me, it is no longer merely a machine, but a friend and support system. What does it mean to you? Long ago, a man named Charles Babbage invented a machine called the Difference Engine, which could perform calculations easily and efficiently. But neither he nor the World was satisfied with this. Man was still superior – he could calculate the value ‘pi’ up to a lakh digits but this contraption could do it only upto 20. Man could remember things. The Difference Engine couldn’t. This led to the discovery of the first computer – the Analytical Engine – a device which could accept information, store it, perform calculations, and present the output, and even control the way processes happened in it. At that point of time this seemed like quite a lot! But ‘We want more!’ has always been mankind’s moolamantra. Consequently, the desire to make the computer do more led to more and more developments in the field and we have now reached a stage where computers can synthesize virtual worlds, compose music, talk, hear, conduct your business, and even think! Early computers were as big as a room and those who had it had it mostly for scientific or research purposes. When the machines started shrinking in size, companies started buying them based on their requirements. Then, computers became smaller and firms and individuals started buying them as status symbols. Gradually, the Desktops became Laptops, Laptops became Palmtops, and Palmtops became Fingertops. Even as size decreased, the power increased, costs went down, and more and more people started buying and using computers, till one day people found that computers were an integral part of their life! We now need a computer not just for professional work, but also to tell us our appointments for the day, to remind us to wish somebody on their birthday, to know the time, to be in touch with friends and family, to be up-to-date with world news, and much more. The very fact that we now “decorate” our desktop backgrounds with “wall papers” and “family photographs” is enough to show how much time we spend with our computers and how attached we have become to these machines. Dogs have been demoted. The computer has now become “man’s best friend”. We pat it, we hug it, we are proud of it. We place chandhan and kumkum on the monitor on Saraswati Puja day and worship it. Completely understandable, for the computer remains the best and most versatile machine even invented. For a layman it is a calculator, for a child it is a video game, for a researcher it is a friend, for a scientist it is a child, for a programmer it is God. It is everything from a work tool to a companion. That said, let us take care to make good but judicious use of it. While we must make the most use of this versatile machine, we must also make sure we do not become dependent on it. Do share your thoughts about what your computer means to you – is it your companion in lull moments, is it your link to your motherland, is it a friend which helps you with almost everything from deciding the night’s dinner menu to children’s school projects, or is it merely a machine? <!-- ~~~~~~ HTML code 'BookMark-4' ends here. ~~~~~~ --> Janani's message to ILites: Friends, I may not be able to meet you next month with the technology column, as I will be traveling. Please accept my most sincere apologies, in advance, for playing truant.