What is a computer?

Computers are everywhere–in our phones, watches, stoves, washing machines, thermostats and door bells; each seems different, and yet they are all roughly the same.  That is the good news–although computers are complex, if you take the time to understand one computer, you can understand each computer form.  I am pained when I hear “I don’t understand these things.”

A computer is a thing, that given a thing, produces a thing.


The thing that represents a computer is a system.

A system is a collection of things that each do something;  when combined, all these somethings contribute to make up a bigger thing: the computer.

Systems typically have components that can be replaced or otherwise changed: upgraded computer chip,  graphics card, memory, hard drive, etc.

A device is a system that can’t be upgraded.  A smart phone is always a smart phone…if it breaks, time to get a new smart phone.

A peripheral is a device that does just one thing,  A printer prints, a mouse mouses, a screen displays, etc.

Systems, devices, peripherals don’t really matter…all are computers, and that’s what we really care about.


The thing a computer is given is called input.  Input is literally, a thing put into the computer.

A computer always has input, even if you think it doesn’t.  Sometimes, the input is simply turning the computer on.   Fun fact: when a computer is turned on, inside is the world’s smallest coxswain yelling “CLOCK! CLOCK! CLOCK!”  at regular intervals.  The internal ticking of a clock can be an input.  Other inputs can be your mouse, finger touches and gestures, keystrokes, cameras, electricity, clocks & watches, or even other computers.


The thing a computer produces is called output. Output is literally, once more, what is put out (hence…output).

A computer always has an output, even if you think it doesn’t–just like input.  Outputs include what you see on the screen, printed materials, what you hear, or other computers, or even the computer itself.

Typically, every output could be an input–the screen could be read, the printed material scanned, the sound recorded.  However, not every input can be an output–at least, not directly: computers can’t make people do things.


The things that make up input and output are structured forms of information known as data; information can take many forms, be it audio waves, the visual spectrum, or the symbols and characters that make up our written language…data can even include the random noise of our universe.  This information, when fed into a computer, ceases to be organic and takes on the structured form of data.  Data implies information has been structured in a way that it can be easily used as an input to a computer.

What is a computer?

A computer is a system or device, that given input data, produces output data.


Understanding computers gives us power over these things that are now everywhere.  Knowledge helps us be independent–if we have a computer problem, maybe we can solve it ourselves and not be reliant on nor wait for others.  This is important as with very basic knowledge of how computers work, we can spend more time doing the things what we want to be doing.

Categories: 101

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s