I still own a Concorde Supersonic airliner. It can carry 100 passengers in luxurious comfort and at unbelievable speeds. . I haven't yet figured out how to get the thing off the ground. I can only manage to taxi it slowly in first gear, and I use it to take stuff to the dump.
Of course, this is not the unvarnished truth of the matter, but metaphorically there is honesty in what I have told you. What I term an SST is actually a computer of mind-boggling capability, which is to say, an ordinary MacBook. Seated at its keyboard, I display the same mastery that I once exhibited on my non-electric Smith-Corona portable - an earlier machine which I used to coax up to nearly Mach 40 words per minute with no fear of sonic boom or aluminum skin crawl.
I am utterly dumbfounded that I don't have to wind paper into a carriage and hit a return lever when I hear a signal bell. It has a little thing called a mouse, which I keep dropping on the floor. With the mouse firmly in a stranglehold, I can click on any of a score of words and symbols in something called the menu bar. Then hundreds of manipulations are at my beck and call. I, however, have learned to restrict my mousing to the basics - commands like Quit, Close, Save, Print, Shut Down, and blessed Sleep. I studiously avoid involvement with such cabala as Toolbars, with its boxes of strange images that I am invited to Reset or Customize. (I'd sooner reset the solar system and customize my grandmother!) Once I went browsing in Hyperlink, thinking it might be some sort of cyber golf course geared for high handicappers, but the screen message befuddled me with directions to find and/or name anchors. Why would I want to name an anchor? What would you name such an object? Anchor What?
Other screen invitations resonate with a dangerous-maybe even a deadly-note: Bullets and Numbering. I'm sure there is a bullet in there somewhere with my number on it, and I intend to dodge it no matter what I may sacrifice in terms of order, regularity, and classification. The Format menu offers me the option to Drop Cap, even though I'm always humbly and respectfully bareheaded at the keyboard.
Remember the old "Typewriter Song" where to a melodic accompaniment you heard a succession of Underwood ratatats and dings? Think what Leroy Anderson could have done with a computer! My box has a repertoire that includes swallowing noises, belches, grunts, rattlesnake warnings, and unspeakable sounds too numerous to list - culminating in a thunderous crash.
Idle mouse clicking and thoughtless finger dragging during a pause to collect my thoughts brought about the disappearance of all I had written as well as that upper tool bar with all those tools and icons I don't know how to employ but whose appearance has become familiar and comforting. A few random, nervous key or mouse strokes and suddenly they reappear. This does not always happen. I have lost whole letters and book chapters, which sometimes turn up embedded in the middle of some long-forgotten file, or else they are circling Saturn along with all my stray socks and lost luggage. But this time the screen returns to the semi-comprehensible amalgam I am accustomed to seeing. Down on the lower right, apart from the white paper simulacrum on which I am typing this-a frame set in a background that looks like a summer sky with some contrails-there is a little square box with a tiny computer on two legs and little mouse feet. As I type along, the little creature bows, turns, bobs, shows me its backside. Tapping in these words, the figure is rocking back and forth with seeming impatience. I have no idea what I am to infer from this activity. Let's try clicking on the little circle next to it. Hmmm! A waving hand appears in his screen face bidding farewell and the mini-box disappears.
No way can a normal individual understand and work a computer if that individual was born in the days when an evening's family entertainment was watching the radio. I have an advanced academic degree, am widely read. Every Sunday I lay to rest the New York Times crossword and acrostic before lunchtime. I discourse extemporaneously on Shelley's adaptation of terza rima to stanzaic form. I win at Scrabble. Though I can change a light bulb, I am hesitant to unplug an electrical outlet for fear the electricity will run out on the floor. I grudgingly accept my computer as a sophisticated great grandchild of my Smith-Corona portable separated from me by an unbridgeable generation gap. However, I draw the line at being insulted.
During a break in composing this meandering confession, I decided to type a quick letter to a friend. I got as far as Dear Ralph when that tap dancing two-footed computer flashed on along with a message that said, "It looks like you are writing a letter. Would you like help?" Arrrgh! This cheeky machine would question my epistolary capabilities! Where's all the help when I'm trying to free a frozen cursor, fashion a template, create a spreadsheet, or simply address and print an envelope?
Today I resisted the urge to hurl my computer through the window. My blood pressure has subsided to an acceptable reading. But stay tuned for my own version of computer crash or sonic boom.
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