By Tom Waters
July 1st, 2006
My friend Mark Miller was very fond of saying that you have to be smarter than the machine you're operating when I was younger. It was his way of making people feel stupid, and it's a clever phrase. It can be applied to a lot of things, but there's one loop hole to that saying: computers. It's safe to say that computers have to be smarter than the moron who's operating them. I'm an idiot when it comes to my computer, and so are most people. It's next to impossible in this day and age to be smarter than your computer. At best, fifteen percent of the populace understands the inner workings of their pcs and the rest of us are grasping at straws and relying on the kindness of operating systems designed by some of the smartest programmers in the world to guide us (the dumbest programmers in the world) through the technological marvels that personal computers provide. I'm a few rungs up the scale from the African Bushman smashing a photographer's camera for stealing his spirit when it comes to computers. I know how to go online, run the word processor, click on my games, and that's it.
Luckily, I bought a computer smart enough to fix any horrendous mistakes or flaws I may have caused with my ham fisted adventures on or off line. After suffering with Macintosh systems for over ten years, I lost my patience and overcompensated. I waltzed into the local superstore, flagged down a clerk and informed him that I was ready to join the 21st century and that he'd better set me up with enough stuff so that I didn't have to return for another five years. After crippling credit checks, two full shopping carts and a laundry list of warranties (because god knows I will screw something up at some point and I'm certainly not smart enough to figure out how to repair the damage I've done), I walked out with a Gateway. Which I've been very happy with. It's got enough memory to store every recorded and unrecorded thought since the beginning of time. I could download porn all day, every day for the rest of my life and still have room to store the library of congress archives on this thing. It's ridiculous how big the memory is. How big is it? I have no idea. But friends who kind of know what they're doing with computers tell me it has a lot.
I learned a long time ago that you don't buy computers to suit your needs, you buy them to brag about what you have and to prepare for needs you may have twenty years from now. Odds are that I'll never utilize half of the functions on this computer, but I couldn't live without said functions. And I absolutely despise people who rattle off an ontological series of programs and internal workings about their computer by way of showing you that they know what they're doing, and how cool their computer really is. "Oh, it's got 300 gigabytes, a fifteen speed processor, 2,000 megabytes of ram, seventeen inch plasma screen, adware, spy ware, Virus Works 7.5, streaming media, streaming urine, and a self retractable cup holder that responds to my two liter of Mountain Dew." They don't know what the hell they're doing either. When people rattle that off, they just learned how to recite what was on the side of the box they paid for. There are far less people who understand what any of that jargon means than recite it, if you ask me.
It's changed my life, though, it really has. It's nice to have a word processor that doesn't freeze up when it's a bit rainy outside, or an online program that I don't have to reboot every other day. It took a long time to get over my bullheaded ignorance of how retarded Apple really is. I was hooked on their computers because much like the tobacco industry, they target kids. They get you when you're young and you can't cope with anything else. Gateways are like a gateway drug to the real computers. Idiot friendly enough for those of us recovering from Apple products, PC savvy enough to train me for my next computer (which I'll pick up when I make the last payment on this one in 2034).
When we got the thing hooked up, my girlfriend insisted on getting a cable modem for the internet. I balked at the idea but she said she'd pay for the service, and it's blindingly fast. Some mornings I'll wake up in a whiskey haze and the internet is running circles around my thought processes in terms of speed. You type in an address and boom, you're there. Talk about impulse gratification. No more wait. The days of typing in a home page then cooking a souffle, painting the exterior of my apartment, and smoking a carton of cigarettes only to come back to the spinny icon are over. You want it, you got it. It streamlines how many things you can get done in one day. Like for instance, watching porn. Instead of watching one grainy five second clip I can watch and store the porn equivalent of Ben Hur on my hard drive. Seriously, though, you can get a lot more research done. Theoretically, it makes your life easier and frees up more time to do other things, but that just doesn't happen. You end up going on other silly quests. A typical day off consists of buying four things on Ebay, watching three hours of porn, doing some research for an article or project, sending out submissions and then surfing aimlessly on foolish whims. I love my computer. When I went on vacation, I got separation anxiety. It's a codependent relationship, only this time, the computer takes all the abuse.
One thing I cannot stand is instant messaging. It's more of a pain in the ass than anything else. When I need to get work done and I'm combing through articles and interviews for a research piece, five people IM me at once with trite pleasantries. 'What's up?' 'How goes it?' 'What's going on?' Fuck off! Leave me alone! What I end up doing is throwing fifteen minutes of my life away performing rudimentary small talk long enough to tell them that I need to go. And then when I am bored, lonely, or feel like chatting, nobody's around. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
What I hate online more than life itself is generic foreworded via email. I've lost friends and upset loved ones firing off on one page rampages in response to three paragraph forewords that they send to 85 of their closest friends. Send this to fifteen more or your house will burn down. Write your big wish and the phone will ring with Ed McMahon on the other end. Three men were fishing with Jesus and this happened. Who cares? Don't bother me with mindless bullshit that pinballs around the web. Don't send me some superstitious claptrap on a state of the art piece of technology. If the chain letter is that important, drool on a stamp and send it snail mail. Filling up my mail box with unoriginal shit is not going to get you on my good side. I would rather receive ten lines about how something is doing than get a stock parable, chain letter or notice that I'm to inherit ten million dollars from a wealthy industrialist in New Zealand who had no immediate family. It's a time waster like so many other things on the internet and most of my friends know me well enough not to send me that tripe and if they don't I'll explain it to them in excruciatingly profane terms so that they never do it again.
Unfortunately, my computer is also a means for work to bother me at home in my free time. I spend at least three hours a week sifting through (and responding to) work emails just before or right after I get out of work, which is a real kick in the ass. I get an average of eight emails a day from my company, half of which I can throw out without missing anything. But I open them up because they all look important and of the half that contain information that is important won't translate onto my computer anyway. If I have Microsoft, the file is Excel. If I have Excel, it's in AppleWrite3. And if I have AppleWrite3, the spreadsheet comes over the wire compliments of Speak 'N' Spell Ver.3.2. You can't win. There are too many different programs out there for word processing and business protocol and the world would be better off if Microsoft finished the job, bought everybody out and made one giant Nazi program to rule them all.
Lindsay insisted on all this trumped up technology so that she can play online games of solitaire with her mom online, which baffles me to no end. Why I would spend three grand so that she can play a game that normally costs two dollars (for a deck of cards and a case of boredom) is beyond me. The games I play on this thing have large guns in short order that fillet, disembowel, incinerate, slice, dice, roast, and perforate the enemy. The resolutions are through the roof and I've got a big screen so that I can see the sort of carnage I enjoy served up with maximum resolution. There's nothing like seeing a red glow come out of the study thanks to the gallons of blood spraying the walls in the games I play. That, and there's always the Sims.
I never thought I'd become a PC gamer, but that's because games were never compatible with Macintosh. The only game I played with my Macintosh was called 'Get the goddamned computer to work before I put my foot through the wall' (which did happen once, mind you). PC games are a thorough experience and if you have a top end computer you can play some top end eye candy. The problem is that I also have three home consoles and two hand held systems, so it's very hard to keep up. It's a day to day decision of whether I'd like to crucify the enemy on the go, on the comfort of my couch, or in the full upright position in my computer chair. So many big decisions in life.
PC geeks kill me. Aside from the aforementioned internal hard drive bragging, they've got superiority complexes accompanied by poor social skills and the fashion sense of the blind. They spend too much time with their computers and not enough time in touch with living, breathing processors of information. They are the fifteen percent that know something about computers and won't let you survive five minutes in their company without pointing it out to you. I'll take understanding the inside of a woman over understanding the inside of a hard drive any day of the week, pal. Most of them have as many acne scars as they do gigabytes, anyway. That's no way to go through life, jacked into a home computer day and night swilling Mountain Dew, retrieving Little Debbie Snack Cakes from a candy drawer within close reach while playing Quake for the 8,000 time. I goof around a lot on my computer, but half the time I'd like to think that I'm doing something worthwhile with it. And I leave my house occasionally, too, so that's something to be proud of.
The internet has transmogrified into a massive beast full of information, social groups, shopping and more porn than Paul Reuben's secret closet. It boggles the mind to think that so much data retrieval is intangibly floating out there in cyberspace, compounded by junk sites, expired sites and sites under construction. They're like old government satellites orbiting the miasma of facts and entertainments swirling around on the superinformation highway. There are so many other things to do with your computer, but the internet has become the primary directive for most families in terms of their buying decisions. At heart, this is a trumped up typewriter for me that aids in the freelancing process as a bonus. Everything else is parsley to me. For Lindsay, it's a really expensive game of cards with her mom. For every guy on the planet, it's the box that porn comes out of. And still others use their computers to keep in touch with loved ones without spiking their phone bills, comb the sites for recipes or get to the bottom of which alien consortium really killed JFK. Computers are all things to all men. It's the first appliance I turn on in the morning and the last thing I check up on before I go to bed. They're an essential part of our lives now for better or worse. One more thing to chew up what little free time we all have left. With my new Gateway, I can chew faster.
What do you think? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!