Thursday, April 8, 2010

Computer wounds

There is a large metaphor residing in your work room, much like the equally metaphorical elephant in the metaphorical living room. Your metaphor, all right, your elephant is the spirited growth of the computer and things literally and figuratively tied to it. You have promised yourself to keep your nostalgia for your red Olivetti portable typewriter in hand, just as you have had to come to terms with the conversation-stopper bomb you drop from time to time, reminding those about you that you were here before television was here. But time was when a computer was something you plugged in so that you could process words without having to go through the histrionics of balling up sheets of paper, then flinging them at a waste basket.

The computer then became a gateway to the Internet, which was a 24/7 opportunity to find other things to do than write. It seemed to work better with the typewriter. First of all, the lack of the keys clacking against the paper and platen was a give-away that you were off somewhere in thought or perhaps even lapsing into alpha waves. You sometimes managed to keep yourself awake by the sound of the keys as they hit home, delivering energy to a word much as an artisan carpenter drove a tidy nail home. Little could go wrong with the manual typewriter that one or two well-chosen oaths could not contain. But as the typewriter morphed into electricity, the industrial revolution was sneaking through the lines. There were the rolls of Mylar ribbon, which, unless you were steady of hand, tended to flop over. There were exorbitant cleaning bills for electric typewriters and, in one or two less comforting experiences, the golf-ball type font could easily fly off the mechanism, once even striking you in the forehead.

The early computers had simple card games such as solitaire, and you seem to remember one inducement to see how well you could do playing twenty-one against the programmed game that came with the computer. The full-scale arrival of the Internet meant it was possible to engage in games of harts with complete strangers who lived in differing time zones. This was getting serious until you discovered ways to remove games in the generic sense and games in the Yahoo sense from the cache. One bad summer brought you to the edge and you swore off of hearts; you've never gone back and your output has felt the benefits. But the worse was yet to come. These were not games or even net surfing, they were gadgets related to wirelessness. It seemed--and still does seem--that the fewer wires related to your computer, the less likely you are to spill coffee, trip over things, or create rat's nests of intertwines cable and wire of one sort or another. The worst then had to do with the uncertainty of routers and cable modems and the way you took for granted being able to look up something on the spot instead of having to schedule a specific research session. When a wireless system goes, a dull ache moves in like an autumn fog, covering everything. You have long forgotten the path you took to get the system to function as it does, meaning then a mad dash to search for the documentation that came with the material, invariably turning up shamefully unanswered letters or even worse, unread student papers, or possibly notes for what seemed like tantalizing possibilities for stories.

Your latest computer distraction began quite unexpectedly late this Tuesday, when you suddenly noticed you could not get online to consult Google for some date of publication for some now forgotten book. It quickly expanded to mid morning yesterday when your ISP tech support argued that their modem was working but your Apple AirportExtreme base station was not, the proof being you could connect directly via ethernet cord, to their modem, whereupon Google was yours for the asking. Late that afternoon, you felt between a rock and a hard place when the manager of Mac Mechanic demonstrated to you the absolute reliability of your base station.

For a considerable time, nothing worked. You could use your laptop if you disconnected it from the large stand-alone screen, and hunkered on the floor the mere length of a usb cord away from the cable modem. Don't even think about the use of the printer, which was needed for a memo to the department head, listing classes you wish to teach.

Ike, the manager of the copy shop across the street from The Mac Mechanic, was pleased to print your memo. A large, balding man with scarcely room for another tattoo on his muscular frame, was sympathetic. "I know, man. When a computer system goes, it's like someone dissed your sister." Ike showed you a small room with a nifty computer-to-printer set-up. "You come back, try working here when things don't go right."

At about five this afternoon, you managed to get things working again, but such is the nature of your understanding of computers and wireless systems that you are still wondering what you did this time seemed to cure the problem when what you'd done so many time earlier had no effect.

The payoff is the realization that computer wounds are in some ways like taking a pet to the vet for some out-of-the-ordinary procedure. It is a painful process, a draining one, and it is no wonder that you have the tiredness now of depletion rather than the tiredness of fun and pleasure after a good writing session.

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