My Life with Computers: A Trip to Mount Everest with No Way Down
by Marjorie Dorfman
Do computers make you feel completely inept? Does their operation represent a mystery that only deepens with exposure? If so, join my club. It wont get any better, I assure you, but at least here you will find some company!
I am not a violent person, but I must admit that my thoughts often turn deadly whenever images of my computer come to mind. In such demented moments, I am always reminded of a poster that hung on a wall in the main office of a place where I once worked. It depicted a man screaming and holding a huge chisel high above his computer. The caption in bold print read:
HIT ANY KEY TO CONTINUE
Have you ever felt like that? If you have and wont admit it, thats all right. If you feel you havent, Im not sure I believe you. Computers are wonderful machines that make our lives easier in so many ways. However, if you are not mechanical or machine-oriented like myself, every once in a while they can keep you on your toes by becoming intimidating and uncooperative automatons with personalities all their own.
I didnt own a computer until about 15 years ago. I was one of those writers who wrote everything by hand into a notebook and then borrowed someone elses typewriter when I was prepared to present it for the entire world to see. I eventually got tired of returning the typewriter to its owner on the other side of town and headed for the big-time by purchasing one of my own. I guess I should have left well enough alone when a few years later a well-meaning friend suggested that I make my writing life easier by purchasing a computer. Despite the little voice in my head that told me I was crazy, I decided I had no right to stand in the way of my own progress. (I guess I should have realized that if I didnt have the right, who did?)
My first computer was a lap top (I wont tell you the brand name or change it to protect the innocent). It cost me along with the second-hand hard drive and printer about a thousand bucks. It had a charcoal gray screen, which is a fine color for a handbag or a pair of shoes, but a terrible choice for the eyes to look upon. It also had the memory of an amnesiac. I would lose words as I was typing them while a warning flashed and disappeared on the screen before I could blink my eyes, much less do anything about it. I was so intimidated and embarrassed that I told everyone, especially my well-meaning friend, that I loved my computer and didnt know how I managed to live and write without it.
But to thine own mechanized self be true and I couldnt keep up my charade forever. There was trouble from the very first day my friend brought the computer to my house. He gave me an hour lesson on how to operate it and everything seemed fine until he went home and I went to turn it on. I couldnt even find the on/off button. I had to call my friend and ask him again where the little bugger was and was he sure it was really there? I finally found it only to discover more problems. Despite that lesson, I was unable to do anything other than turn the machine on or off. No matter how hard I tried or what button I pressed, I was connected to a blank screen. I couldnt even get a dialogue box. I was all alone as they say, by not by the telephone.
I tried almost all the next day which was a Sunday to make some progress, but I finally had to call my friend again to ask him hypothetically where my work would be if I had any. Should I have realized at this point that I had made a serious mistake in the purchase of a computer? Probably. But did I? What do you think?
The fate of this machine was indeed a sad one. It went through many stages of life, sickness and death as do people. In those days I smoked and cigarette ash, coffee and creativity kind of went together. Sometimes strange things slipped inside the computer, but whatever missed the space between the keys my cats made up for by walking all over the machine at will. (I had a cover, but they would knock it off.) It was as if I had sprinkled a can of catnip all over it. They couldnt have been more attracted to this machine that was slowly but surely ruining my writing life.
At first, I tried to use the computer every day. Then I covered it up and ignored it, pretending that it had offended me in some unforgivable way. I liked that stage best, but my writing was piling up. Since I had intelligently given my typewriter away to another struggling writer after I bought the computer, I was forced to conquer the Mount Everest of the technologically challenged. And so I tried, because "it was there" as Edmund Hillary responded when asked why he climbed Mt. Everest, to have a love-hate relationship with this machine that lived in my house. I often asked myself why it deserved a second chance as it paid me no rent and had taken over what was left of my mind.
It took a while, but eventually things went beyond pretending to be offended. I began to really take things personally. I would have dreams about the computer devouring my apartment, kind of like that movie about that beast in Cleveland, only bigger. I had to do something. It was either it or me. Justifiable Computercide. One morning after I had lost two hours of work without any warning, (even though when it did warn me there was never enough time to do anything about it except cry), I got so disgusted that I disconnected the machine. I then, with malice aforethought, opened the door to my apartment. I knew my intentions were as bad as they could be when I checked up and down the hallway to make sure no that one was watching.
Like a thief in the night, I walked slowly but surely to the end of the dimly-lit hall where I knew I would find the solution to my problems. (I was aware even in my dementia that it would be the start of others, but I didnt care.) I opened the metal door to the incinerator. It creaked. I was eleven floors up and I remember thinking that was a long way down. In a fit of homicidal peak, I threw that little bugger down the incinerator. To this day, all I have to do is close my eyes and I can hear the clackety-clack of the plastic as it hit the incinerator walls on its way down to the furnace.
Did I feel better? You bet. Would I do it again? Does a murderer return to the scene of the crime? Of course I bought a computer again a few years later. I guess Im a glutton for punishment. Only now I have a nice size monitor, significant memory and a screen that is not a color I would want to match for a pair of shoes or a handbag. Am I ever tempted to take similar action with my new computer? I sure am, but Ive matured. Besides, this ones too big to throw down the incinerator!
Did you know . . .