Letter from the Editor

Monday, July 24, 2006

I hate this computer

Like all Very Expensive Things that promise to make Everything About Your Silly Life Smoother, the All-New Big Amazing Very Newest Thing brand supercomputer terminal I am typing this message on is a complete techno-farce.

It takes three times longer to do everything I need to do than the Outmoded Old Piece of Dusty Junk brand one that preceded it. It sorts through my e-mail and trashes everyone I want or need to hear from and yet lets every stinking spam ad for male body part enhancement pills come walzing right in. It eats software programs like Pop-Tarts, and worst of all, it has evil intentions, of this I am certain.

Invariably, at the very moment I am most desperately behind in meeting my deadline, in fact, often at the very second of the final keystroke to complete my drudgery... it crashes, shuts down, spits my stories out into the netherworld, never to be seen again.

Eighty-six calls to tech support will finally produce a voice, sounding for all the world as if it is coming out of a mental institution somewhere in India, to assure you in broken English that whatever is happening before your eyes is utterly impossible. After half an hour of arguing, her final recommendation? Maybe you should get that computer we just sold you fixed by somebody who knows something about computers (which apparently does not include the huge, rich megacorporation that makes them.)

I must admit that I have plotted the machine's demise several times this week. My fantasy is to wing its stylish flatscreen, discus style, from atop the Flindt Drive overpass, right in front of a steaming Kenworth loaded with hog byproducts.

However, I am almost certain there is something in the employee handbook about that kind of thing. So, as in all such cases, it is best to smile, thank the boss who is kind enough to think of you, and make the best of it. I estimate the glitches should nearly be worked out in three years - just in time for the platform to become another totally obsolete technological paperweight to retire to the basement to make way for the Next Bigger Thing from the same corporation which will no doubt be an even bigger bugger.

Anyway, at one point during its first week on the job, the computer crashed as fatally as a Pinto in the demo derby, and I actually had to write a story out longhand.

It dawns on me what a lost art that is - something I really haven't done since my days on a high school newspaper back during the Stonewall Jackson administration.

In fact, beyond scrawling a few adjectives in a notebook out on a news scene, or signing a check or a birthday card now and then, I am a "writer" who does not write at all.

My main contact with the outside world is e-mail - a form of communication that is intellectual shorthand at best. Words get chopped down - "though" is now "tho" and the mirthical magic of laughter is reduced to cold, flat "LOL."

No wonder college graduates are unencumbered by grammar, and the juicy, personal letter is considered a quaint antiquity.

It is obvious that both my handwriting (I had trouble reading my own story) and my ability to produce thought via pencil and paper have atrophied alarmingly.

There is no key to reach for to retract what you didn't mean to write and switch it all around to make it better. No spell check. And for some reason I could not get my pencil to play my favorite hits from Gnarles Barkley, link me into that webcam I like on the beach in Key West, tell me the time and weather at a blink, or deal me up a hand of virtual Texas Hold 'Em when I got bored.

And I've forgotten - how do you make the things sharp again? Must I send the pencil off to the technician for an upgrade?

Since this experience, I've come to appreciate writing - as opposed to keystroking - a bit more.

The occasional handwrite letter still comes across my desk, and it dawns on me that in it, I can feel how deeply the writer pressed into the paper and somewhat share in his or her mood. In the dots and loops, there is a sense of how the person is - angry, gently introspective, whimsical. Handwriting is most likely un-selfedited and raw. It represents a mission - taking somewhat more time and motivation that firing off a 10-second initialed e-mail or aboriginal grunt of a text message, to be given no more than the same 10 seconds by the receiver who will either forward it to somewhere else or click you straight into junkmail oblivion.

Eventually, we'll get the new computers working passably well. But I think from time to time I should still write a story out in the cursive some forgotten teacher long ago drummed into my soul, just for the heck of it. Friends and loved ones should get some actual writing from me, not just some e-mail. And maybe it would be best if kids learned to write in school, not just to keystroke.

Who's going to treasure an e-mail, or wrap up a bunch of text-messages in ribbon to save away in the attic, the way your grandmother saved letters from your grandfather?

I hate my computer, but I kind of like the lesson it's taught me.

I still want to heave it off an overpass, though. And if the darn thing was so bloody smart, what it would do is just freeze up again and stop this editorial right h...