Richard Byrne, a former professor and dean at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications who was known for making computers less intimidating to ordinary people, died Friday of skin cancer at his West Hollywood home. He was 53.
Byrne, who in 1982 founded one of the first consulting firms devoted to acquainting executives with high technology, had been ill since early last year but continued lecturing around the world until last month.
As president of the firm, Springboard!, he traveled as far as Europe and Thailand to dilute “computer phobia.” In as many as 200 lectures a year, he enlivened complex computer terminology with common-sense explanations and a wry wit.
Byrne, who had previously taught at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas, left his position as a full-time professor at USC in 1984 to devote himself to an increasingly lucrative lecturing career.
Avoiding terms like “byte” and “input,” Byrne lectured to groups as diverse as the Los Angeles Police Department, the American Library Assn., the Teamsters Union and the California State PTA, urging schools to buy and use computers and executives to conquer their fear of the machines.
In a 1983 interview with The Times, Byrne explained his teaching technique.
“We say, take the little disc and open the little door and slide it into the little slot and close the door,” he said. “That way it’s clear who’s the human being and who’s the dopey little machine.”
Byrne said his goal was to demystify the new technology for himself and others and to prepare people for the changes the technological revolution is bringing to their lives.
“The transformation is already complete,” Byrne told The Times in 1982. “You know, the whole world is wired.”
Byrne worked with organizations serving the mentally retarded and was board chairman of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena from 1975 to 1980.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, twin daughters, Megan and Heather Byrne, his father, Douglas Byrne and a sister, Jean Barrett.