So, let’s say you love to write: short stories, poetry, music lyrics, whatever it is you love. When you first started writing you probably went to a bookstore, bought a notebook, or a pad of paper, and a really great pen that felt comfortable in your hand. You’d been reading books and literature for years, loving every minute of it, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I love writing, and I have something wonderful or beautiful to say, and with this paper, and this pen I will conquer the world!”
At this point, you’re probably also reveling in the pure power the expression, and how directly connected you are to your words: you think them, you write them, it is done. Life is beautiful. So, you start writing. Turns out your stuff is really good, even brilliant, your readers are loving it, and you’re on cloud nine.
And then something happens. You leave your notebook out in the rain, or you leave it in a coffee shop in a hurry to get somewhere, or it was in that backpack that got stolen. Something, somewhere along the way happens, and you decide that, “I can’t let that happen again.”
So, in your despair you decide to go to your local bar with some friends and tell them your sad tale to soften the pain a little. “All the writing I did in the last month was in there! It was the start to my masterpiece, the one thing that would break me out of obscurity and set me among the greats of literature where English students would praise my name for generations to come! I can’t believe my terrible luck!” As it turns out, one of your friends, Joe, loves to write as well. He’s been in your shoes, he owns one of these new fangled things called a computer, and he says it’s the absolute best way to write. Joe says, “If you learn to type quickly, it’s so much faster than writing by hand,” and “There’s all these fancy things called fonts that are fun to play with”, and “My computer is connected to this thing called the Internet, and it allows me to instantly publish my work online without having to have it printed, or to go through a publishing house or anything!” In your slightly inebriated state, Joe is sounding like an old soul who “gets” you, and who really understands your problem.
Well, you think this sounds interesting, albeit not nearly as romantic as the idea of actual handwritten ink letters on paper (after all, people have been doing it that way for thousands of years), but you decide that the cramp you get in your arm everyday after three hours of writing every day isn’t so hot, so you decide to try Joe’s solution.
Ha ha ha! Sucker! You’ve decided to solve your problem with technology of all things! Oh, you poor, pitiful sap!
So, you go to a store that sells these computer things, and if choosing from among the 10,000 computers on display, and dealing with an apathetic sales person, and signing all the paperwork for a bunch of crappy free services wasn’t enough to make you scream, then it’s a good thing you have no idea what’s coming next!
You bring the computer home, and instantly there’s all this stuff you have to worry about. First of all, these things aren’t as expensive as a car, but they’re nowhere as cheap as a pad of paper and a new pen. You think, “After plunking down all that cash, this thing better be psychic, and take my brilliant thoughts and instantly translate them into perfectly crafted written word,” followed by, “Besides, Joe certainly thinks that this is the most awesome thing since sliced bread, and this Internet thing sounds cool!” The computer comes in two boxes, one for this thing that the sales guy is calls a “CPU“, and one for the monitor, and the sales guy tells you, “All you do is take it home, plug it in, and turn it on.” Sounds pretty simple. After all, you bought a toaster once, and by the way the sales guy describes it, setting up the computer doesn’t sound much more complicated than a toaster with a screen. You get excited, and you’re thinking about how you can completely rewrite your masterpiece from scratch in just a few days. Maybe this won’t be so bad!
You open the boxes, and you see this thing that looks nothing like a toaster, and it not only lacks the handy press-down lever that makes toasted bagels for you, this thing has got about a thousand plugs, wires, and buttons.
“Oh, there’s a book! It will tell me how to setup my ToasterMatic computer! Wait, why does this thing come in four languages, I only speak English? And hey, why is the English portion so poorly written?” you are a writer after all, so you have standards, “And why, even though they claim this to be English, is it filled with all this jargon that assumes so much prior knowledge about computers that it’s basically useless?
“I know! I’ll call Joe.”
You call Joe. He answers. You explain that you took the leap and bought a computer, and you’re wondering how to get this thing plugged in so you can start making tasty, literary toast, because it’s supposed to be so easy and awesome.
Joe’s first question is, “So what kind of computer did you get?”
“Uh, the kind that lets me write?”
“What’s the make and model?”
“On the box … read me what it says on the box.”
“It says, Microsoft Windows ready. ToasterMatic ML-98765. 300 GB. ToasterMatic graphics-”
“Okay, gotcha, that’s enough. You probably got a monitor with it as well.”
“Okay, so what you need to do is …”
… and Joe talks for fifteen minutes about cables, how everything is color-coded so you can’t plug the wrong thing into the wrong place, and easy your life is going to be. However, by the end of it you’ve learned a dozen new technical terms which you don’t fully understand, you’ve tried to connect your keyboard into this thing on the front of your computer called a “Flash card reader”, and you don’t understand why the cable that goes from the monitor to the CPU doesn’t look the same as the cable that goes from your TV to your cable box. With some perseverance, you finally get the thing plugged in, and all the cables arranged the way Joe recommends, and the thing is powered on.
“It says, ‘Welcome to Windows 7,” which leads to another hour-long conversation about all the questions you have to answer when you first turn it on, and you hear yourself asking things like, “What is an IP address,” and “Do I have a dedicated or built-in video card in this thing? By the way, what the hell is a video card?” and “Why do they want me to tell them my name, address, and telephone number?”
The quest drags on. By the end of the day you’re patience is pretty much at an end, and you haven’t even got any writing done. Thankfully, however, Joe is very knowledgeable, and patient, and everything seems to be working the way he says it should. That night before you go to bed, you crank out the first part of a new version of your masterpiece of writing, it’s dynamite, and you even posted it to this new thing called a blog that Joe helped you setup for publishing your writing. You start to see comments on the blog pour in, and people are just loving your stuff.
Oh, but it doesn’t end there, right? A few weeks go by. Sometimes your blog, for no reason that makes any sense, doesn’t let you log in, you don’t know why you have to categorize and tag all your posts (never had to do with the old pen and paper solution), Joe tells you that you need to worry about protecting your computer from viruses and hordes of random people who apparently want to steal your identity now that you’re on the Internet, and basically you’ve taken on all these responsibilities that never even existed before when it was just you, your ink, and your paper.
On top of all of that, the best part is that your friend Joe isn’t always available when you need him, so he suggests you call the help line at ToasertMatic computers whenever you have a question, “You’re computer came with a warranty, so you can call them anytime and they should be able to answer your questions.” Problem is, when you try to call, you get one of those damn automated menus (you especially like the voice-activated ones that seem to have no idea what the hell you’re saying), and after waiting on hold for twenty minutes you get the pleasure of talking to a person who sounds like they’re fresh out of high school, they’re not at all interested in your questions or problems, and for whatever reason that special tone in their voice makes you think they are about to jump out a window any second now.
After working for half an our on trying to figure out why nothing is happening when you type on your keyboard, and after the seventh explanation you still don’t know why you have to press “Ctrl + Alt + Del” at the same time to get to some crazy menu, you just lose it. “Damn it, you adolescent, social reject! Do you understand that all I want to do is write some fucking words on this piece of shit computer that is supposedly going to change my life for the better?”
At this point, all you hear is the sound of a man jumping from a thirty story window, followed by the click that indicates your phone call is disconnected.
Technology is terribly, often stupidly complicated. Somehow we’ve all bought into using it. We sometimes laugh (but mostly cry) about it, and we accept extreme levels of complexity to do some of the simplest things. Well, having helped people understand technology for over 10 years, believe me, I feel you. Even though I love technology, I finally reached the point where when someone calls me and says, “Why does this thing have to be so complicated?” rather than respond by saying, “Well all you have to do it install this driver, register your copy of Windows with Microsoft via their website, and jump up and down seven times while saying, ‘I love you, gods of technology! Have mercy on me!'” I’m more apt to say, “Yeah, no kidding. This isn’t complicated, yet helpful; it’s just plain complicated.”