“How the Computer Works,” by Andrea Laue is one of the most technical writings I have read in a long time. Laue is quick to give a brief overview of everything she is going to be discussing in her piece. For the most part, Laue’s aim is to discuss the logistics of the computer. That is, Laue is aiming to discuss how the computer works in the modern context of itself. Laue’s overarching topic is to show computers as symbols, which “computers employ technologies symbolic of larger historical and cultural trends.” These histories, Laue believes are, “essential to preunderstanding how computer(s) function.” (145)
In the first section where Laue is explaining how the computer works, she discusses input. Because I do not know a lot about computers, I appreciated that she first began the paragraph with what forms of input on a computer actually are. “Contemporary computers offer a range of input devices, including keyboards, the mouse, floppy disk drives, modems, and USB ports.”(146) In her own words, Laue describes the aspects of what qualifies devices as having input value. “Such devices are often called peripherals, a term that describes any component, internal or external, which adds hardware capabilities to the basic design of the system.” (146) Laue then explains the way a keyboard works as an input device through explaining the process of pressing keys, recognition, etc. Laue does all of this to say that the basis of the sharing of data in a computer is, “nothing more than electricity…” (147) of recognizing charges from no charge at all. This process, as Laue points out, is opposite of historical, representation and also the origin of the term ‘bit’. Understanding the input and the historical context surrounding how input works in a modern computer is essential to understanding how a computer works today and therefore determine cultural trends.
Next, Laue discusses the topic of control. She does so first by discussing the motherboard, “the physical component that houses the control and processing units.” (147) Then, Laue discusses the important element of control within the control of a computer, the system clock. Laue discusses clock speed in relation to the motherboard and its modern speed. Laue explains, “The clock is necessary because different parts of the job of the clock to act as a master control, to synchronize the flow of bits…” (148) Historically, modern clock speed is increasingly getting faster, thus the entire control system of the computer is faster. She does not say it, but to me, the historical and cultural context of this does lie in the time. Fast processing has shaped not only the computer, but as a result the surrounding culture. For me personally, everything is circled around instantaneous idea of thinking.
The last and final large point that Laue discusses is output. Yet again, I was thankful that Laue outlined what examples of output devices are. “Output devices include monitors, printers, modems, Ethernet cards, and speakers.” (150) Laue first discusses modem, “the point of conversion between the digital and the analogue, between new and (relatively) old technologies of communication.” (150) Engineers created technology in order for analogue to be transferred by frequency faster. This directly affects users of computers, and other kinds of technology. For example, Laue talks about emails and the instantaneous transfer to analogue before the email is ever sent.
A lot of this article was confusing to me because of the technical terminology that Laue is using here. I was especially confused when she was talking about RAM, VFAT and the connections between them. I was also a little confused in some parts how she was trying to connect each of these topics back to culture and history. I feel like she got caught up in being technical in her explanations of the nitty-gritty of the computer systems that she forgot to explicitly say how she was making the connections back to main argument.
Some points that I would like us to talk about as a class are related to the control aspect of Laue’s discussion. For me, I see the strongest connection of history and culture through this aspect. How might everyone see this connection? Is it good? Bad?