How Computers Changed Our Minds – Another Aspect Of Gates’ Legacy

This week, with Bill Gates’ last day at work, every respectable magazine made an attempt to summarize his legacy. Here is something that was not covered in any of those articles.

That morning John (63), the manager at the auto shop had a large elastic bandage on his hand. “What’s that for?” Sara asked.

John: “Yesterday I fell and hurt myself badly, and a major swelling developed under the wrist. The doctor said nothing was broken but the swelling put a pressure on the nerve, and my brain got confused. As it sometimes happens with computers, my brain misread the signal and thought the nerve was telling it that all my fingers were broken. That was why it was so painful. The doctor gave me cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation and swelling, so the pressure on the nerve would be removed, and this would help my brain get the correct read on the situation”.

15 years ago you wouldn’t have heard a doctor giving such an example; and even more surprising, you would hardly expect the patient (unless he worked in IBM) to understand the metaphor and its exact context.  PCs on every desk have not only changed what we can do; they have changed our minds and how we use language.

Metaphors and imagery always originate in the obvious, the easy to grasp, local environment. Long ago, it was the forest, the sea, the mountain, the desert; then it was the plants, the animals, the mustard seed, the beast. Later still, the machines, the conveyor belt, the assembly line. Today, metaphors and imagery are fashioned by a global-computerized-internet environment because this is such a central part of our experience.

Can you estimate how many times a day you use computing and Internet metaphors to explain relationships, nature, your body and brain, organizational issues and more…

Our experience of our environment fashions our minds and the language we use to frame our communications which then inform our sense of meaning and purpose. Bill Gates’ legacy stretches beyond the PC – he helped reshape our perception and language.

© Aviv Shahar

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