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Example: What Happens When You Press A Key
To illustrate how the computer works, let's take a very simple example. Let's suppose you are working in your word processor and you type the letter "M". Here's what happens, in general terms, when you press the "M" button:
Wow, a lot happens even in a simple example like this! This all appears to occur instantaneously because the computer is simply operating at a much faster speed than humans can readily perceive. But despite the illusion created by the speed of the PC, a lot of activity is going on inside the box for even the most basic activity.
In fact, even in the description above, I omitted many steps and details. To list every single step could take dozens of pages, even for just this simple example! The processor itself is handling many thousands of chores every second, and every part of the computer has a job to do on an ongoing basis. This hopefully gives you some idea of how the computer processes, moves, and stores information. Notice that in this example all three activities occurred.
You might feel a bit overwhelmed by this, and think that maybe computers are just too complicated to understand. Fortunately, we don't really need to understand every little detail that goes on inside them to buy and use them, or even to build them. It is usually enough to know what the parts of the computer are and how they interact.