I write a lot. There are letters to friends, replies to readers, articles, texts, social media comments, columns, and books. Some days I live in front of the computer. I think my fingers are flattening out at the tips — a modern day version of the scribe’s middle-finger callus I suppose.
I hear a lot of people say that computers are hard to use. Apparently, folks feel that technology is moving too quickly, and it’s scary.
Personally, I also have difficulties using computers. I’m no techno-peasant — if it has buttons, and beeps, I own it. I’ve been using the home version of the computer since the first VIC 20 came out years ago. (Yes, I am that old.) For me, computers are difficult to use because technology isn’t advancing fast enough.
The thing you have to realize you see, is that computers are essentially stoopid. Using one is very much like talking to a three year old. When you a tell a three year old what to do, you have to be clear, concise, and keep in mind that they are very, very literal.
For example, if you’re on the phone, and you need to write something down in a hurry, you can tell your kid to go get you a pencil from your desk. However, if there are only pens on your desk, your kid will come back empty-handed, and look surprised when you get annoyed.
Likewise, computers follow your instructions down to the letter. Way back when, using your computer consisted of typing in lines, no, pages, of programming instructions. (Who else wants to date themselves by remembering PEEK and POKE commands?) No matter how carefully you typed, you almost always missed a small detail. If you tried to run the program, the thing would get a serious case of electronic indigestion. And, almost always, the thing you missed would be a @#$%^! comma in line 4657. No, I’m not bitter about it. Honest.
Computers today are a little better, but not much. The one I’m working on now doesn’t know I’m Canadian. Consequently, every time I run the spell check, it tells me I don’t know how to spell `colour,’ `centre,’ and `Tuktoyuktuk.’ I could add these things to the program’s dictionary, but this makes everything an agony of decisions. How many times am I likely to refer to Newfies in the future? Is the conservative leader O’Toole going to be around long enough to warrant the disk space?
Finances on the computer are fun too, because we’re still in a transition stage. We’re not an entirely cashless society yet, so you really can’t use the computer efficiently. To issue a paper cheque right now (and yes, there’s an astonishing number of places that still insist on cheques), I’d have to turn on the computer, access the program, enter the data, turn on the printer, oh yes – change the paper in the printer, or . . . I could go into my pocketbook and sign on the dotted line.
Likewise, my bank keeps haranguing me to go paperless with my bank account statements, and my accountant still wants everything printed out… which makes me think the bank isn’t really concerned about the environment so much as it wants to offload it’s stationary costs onto me. But I digress.
Yesterday, while trying to update the firmware for a monitor, my computer kept insisting it couldn’t possibly find the monitor I was trying to update… by displaying an error message on the monitor I was trying to update. My iPad insists that I update its operating system and assures me that it will be able to update itself overnight as long as it’s kept plugged in, yet every day for a week now, I’ve received the message from my plugged in iPad that it wasn’t able to update itself. I guess I need to make some time later to hold it’s digital hand?
So you see, I can’t wait for computers to get smarter. I want mine to take orders like the one on the bridge of Star Trek does (without reporting what I’m buying or doing to a corporate headquarters). I want it to learn my version of shorthand. I can’t wait for a “smart” home with a genuinely self-cleaning oven, and a freezer that knows when I am running perilously low on rocky road ice cream and adds it to the grocery list. I want my phone to know who’s on the other end of the line, and to only ring when it’s someone I want to talk to, and not the fake Canada Revenue Agency scam call (which I’ve received 12 times today and counting.)
Bring on the window-washing robots. Send me the automated lawn-mower. Ship ’em direct, and rush the delivery!
Image credit: Andy Miccone/Flickr