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MARTHA SEZ: Life and death of a computer

July 25, 2011
It’s about time to buy a new computer. I feel so disloyal typing these words on my cobalt blue iMac, who after all has been with me now for four years. Bluie must think that I’m going through some kind of midlife crisis.

We have had our problems, but maybe some of them were my fault. Bluie wasn’t my first computer, after all, and I admit I did not go into this relationship with an open, trusting heart. I already had some computer baggage.

No computer is perfect. If you work with a computer, I’m sure you are aware of its quirks and inconsistencies. Your Dell can make complicated mathematical computations more quickly and accurately than you can, but even so, it isn’t all logic and precision.

“Computers don’t make mistakes. People do.” You don’t hear this truism as much as you used to. It has become outdated, along with the technology it defended — those early computers are now called dinosaurs — because people have discovered that the truism isn’t true.

Those of us who have lived with computers know that they act in unnerving and inexplicable ways. Your Mac has its own mood swings, its bad days and fits of mutiny.

It may even be out to get you. Like when you’re having difficulty performing some straightforward task, a task you’ve performed about a million times without incident, only to have your computer suddenly draw the line and decide to cut you off.

One way a computer does this is to freeze and crash, taking hours and hours of your work along with it. Even though the freeze ‘n’ crash syndrome resembles in many respects the progression of the deadly ebola virus, “crash, bleed out and die,” it cannot be counted as a true illness, since computers are not alive. No, they’re not, even though, as I said, they can do arithmetic better than you can. (Maybe, deep in their innards, they have thousands and thousands of tiny fingers to count on. I’ll have to remember to ask a computer guy about that.)

At least I hope they are not alive.

Some days, especially when you have a deadline to meet, your Dell will start messing with you, larking around in an apparent attempt to push you over the edge into utter madness. Computers can smell fear.

When you call in a techie or another authority figure  who made an impression on your computer during its formative programing, it will immediately sober up and act responsibly.

Yesterday an IBM I know cleaned up its act as soon as a hired expert walked into the room.

“Behaving now, eh?” the expert said to the IBM, and the computer meekly submitted and began processing data again. For the time being. I imagine as soon as the coast was clear it started acting up again.

Bluie has always seemed a tad defensive. When she fails to perform a task as requested, she starts speaking in a voice that a Japanese duck might use, if Japanese ducks could speak English.

“It is not my fault!” Blue insists. “the incligator was irregulated,” or some such excuse.

And what about those urgent messages that flash onto the screen, just when everything seems to be going well, and you think you’re going to get your project done?

“You have just performed Error 666. Call whoever you want, but don’t expect anything more from ME today.”

Sounds pretty sleazy, doesn’t it? Imagine if that piece of news got around Keene Valley! And who ‘s to say your computer won’t turn you in, either for Error 666 or something worse?

Especially it is  on-line. have you ever considered what mayhem computers could create if they formed a union? Strength in numbers, you know. Just because the Y2K scare (that computers gone wrong would cause the collapse of civilization as we know it) was only a scare doesn’t mean that everything is going to be all right. the computers are always out there, and the computers are always hungry.

They’re just biding their time, networked and Webbed and ready to go at a moment’s notice, motivated by whatever it is that motivates computers.

The only hope I’m holding out is that they’ll blow it somehow. With all of their bugs and glitches and viruses and errors and funny accents and personality flaws, I’m not sure computers will be able to work with each other any better than they do with us.

Have a good week.


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