I figure it'll take a typical family about 10 minutes to discover the biggest hassle in having a personal computer in the home. But I'm going to spare you the shock of discovery:
Once you use your computer to play games, it may be weeks before it's used for something else.
All the talk about how personal computers are going to change the lives of us common folk is true--but not because of all the information management potential inside the little desktop computer.
No. Right now, they're more likely to be changed because of all the incredibly sophisticated games that personal computers can play. And while they aren't always as sophisticated as the ones you'll find in arcades, they are far more challenging and entertaining and captivating than anything else you have ever played at home.
It may be one life-changing aspect of personal computing that you'll be less than happy with if you plunked down your $1,000-and-up expecting something more. Yet more and more personal computer owners are discovering how quickly game playing ends up monopolizing the computer.
Which is a shame, because there are lots of things that personal computers can do that can help you.
Take me, for instance. Thanks to my Apple II Plus, I doubt that I'll ever write on a manual or electric typewriter again. In about 10 seconds, I can transform this monster game machine into a pretty good word processor. That means I can write, edit and print out a perfect copy of whatever I'm working on in a fraction of the time it used to take. One problem: you'll need a printer--unless you want to copy everything you've written off the television or video screen by hand or with an old fashioned typewriter. That will cost about $500 for a good one.
All the hype about lives being changed is probably most true when it comes to the applications of personal computers in the small business. "User friendly" programs have been developed that enable the small business owner with no computer expertise to use a small computer to eliminate all the drudge work that can consume hours or days, like maintaining mail lists or adding long columns of figures on a business spreadsheet.
The potential for home financial management is enormous. Already there are programs available that will do all your checking account scut work, like balancing and breaking out budget categories. Some will display your financial status in graphs. There are also tax programs that will prepare your taxes (they have in their memory just about every conceivable form you might need). Like the small business spreadsheet programs that enable you to do "what if" situations, you can examine the impact of various tax strategies.
There are also programs that will permit you to file electronically anything you want. Take, for instance, your dog-eared recipes. If you've got enough patience, you can type them in and then, when you need them, tell the computer to pull out and print a copy for you. It can be helpful in unexpected ways, like when you remember some luscious dish you prepared but can't remember anything about it beyond the fact that it had ground beef in it. Solution: Ask the computer to search your recipe file for all entries that contain a reference to ground beef.
There are also educational instruction programs available that tutor your children in just about any subject you can imagine and, in the end, this could emerge as one of the most valuable advantages of computers.
But it just may be that five years from now the most important contribution your personal computer makes will not be what it does in the house but what it can do to connect you with the rest of the world.