I’m sitting here typing and trying to be very quiet. I’m about to write terrible things about my computer and I don’t want it to know. I realize I sound more than a touch crazy, but I’m convinced that if I’m not circumspect, and the central processing unit gets wind of what I’m doing, a temper tantrum will ensue, and I will have to endure another major breakdown, like I did last Saturday.
The fact that the malfunction occurred on a weekend, when one is less likely to obtain technical assistance, just goes to demonstrate its capacity for malice. And all this time it was pretending to be my friend.
It was a slow build-up of trust over the years. I admit at first I was skeptical, even a little afraid. Once you reach a certain decade, you don’t necessarily welcome innovation into your life. Especially innovation that comes with a snakes’ nest of electrical wires. The way you presently get things done is just fine, thank you very much. ( I suppose I’d have had the same response to the electric typewriter if I’d been this age back then.)
But gradually, you let yourself become convinced that e-mails were not created by the devil, and there really is a more efficient way to type and save a document.
That’s how it begins, this insidious process. Little by little you find yourself handing your life over to your computer. You no longer engage in hand-written correspondence. Your beloved set of Encyclopedia Britannicas is replaced by Google. (I wonder what happened to all those salesmen?) You make it the trustee of your music library and let it serenade you with your favorite songs.
It lures you into allowing it become the keeper of your family photos. Irreplaceable ancestral pictures are now imprinted on its hard drive. Then it gently requests permission to store the contact information of everyone you have ever known in your life, convincing you that your address book is fast becoming a Smithsonian relic.
You start to relax around your computer. You feel you have developed a rapport. You have by this time, handed over your appointment calendar, your favorite recipes, your buying habits, and reading preferences.
You are now completely primed for the next big step. It wants your financial information. Who can resist the temptation of the eternally accurate bank reconciliation and the draw of on-line bill payment?
Do you see what’s happening here? How you have been lulled into deeding your life to this machine for the promise of accuracy, convenience, and more space on your book shelves?
The computer now owns you! It has become your brain. The servant has become the master, like life imitating a British melodrama. It’s “Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey Meets Hal!” (Remember Hal, the tyrannical computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey?” How prophetic!)
Do I sound slightly hysterical? More than slightly hysterical? Well, that’s what it was like on Saturday morning when I complacently turned on my computer, rightly expecting that it would respond in the helpful manner to which I had become accustomed, only to find myself confronted with nothing! Well, not nothing exactly. There was enough something to let me know that it wasn’t going to operate. The “something” is also known as the “error message.”
Error messages alone are enough to cause panic in a Zen master. They are indecipherable by the common man, shrouded in unknown references and secret code numbers. It’s the computer acting like it is trying to be helpful, when actually, it’s laughing.
My printer, I discovered, was also part of this conspiracy. Overnight, the two had obviously formed a secret pact for the sole purpose of my derailment. The document I had written the day before, which was already late for a deadline, could neither be e-mailed nor printed. And what about everything else that I had entrusted to this terrorist?
So, here I was, woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Me, a highly competent person trained to handle all types of domestic crises. But this was way more than a broken toaster. The only other time I had come close to this degree of casualty was when my coffee maker went on the fritz at six-thirty in the morning.
After a series of hysterical phone calls to my son, the IT guy, and my internet provider, who, thank goodness did not keep me on hold for an hour, it was determined that the hard drive needed to be reconfigured. I quickly recognized that my knowledge of fixing a computer malfunction, which is limited to the unplugging and replugging of a power cord, was insufficient for a catastrophe of this magnitude.
My desk top was holding me hostage, demanding a new name and the option to go wireless. I guess I should be grateful that it wasn’t also asking for a helicopter and two million dollars.
I was in desperate need of a hostage negotiator. Although it was the weekend I took a chance and called my local tech person. Sensing I was suicidal, he was kind enough to give me a Sunday appointment. For his weekend rate, of course. At this point, even the two million dollars was not out of the question.
I watched as my computer succumbed to his expertise, like an animal to a trainer, knowing it has been bettered. In short order, I heard the welcome sound of my printer forced into submission. Life, as I had come to know it, had been restored, and I was finally able to exhale.
Since the Saturday episode, my computer and I have managed to reestablish a working relationship. I even bought it a brand new router, hoping to soothe the beast within. I have to say that I’m in awe of the degree of dependency we have bestowed on these little monsters. And how, as I next push the “Print” key, I’m haunted by the voice of Hal stating: “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”