When we first got the internet I was ten. I thought the internet was made from the hard labor of thousands of helpful gnomes making illuminated manuscripts and running from computer to computer to glue them inside the screen. I was also convinced that the way to get on to the super information highway was a secret and the location of the Explorer icon changed hourly.
My father would sigh and lean over where I sat in the computer chair flapping my hands and crying to pull the icon out of where it always was in the start up folder and click it for me.
The startling, changing world of technology frequently leaves me in a frightened befuddlement. I’m not even worried about getting old and going senile because that’s basically my day to day already.
“What the fuck do you mean ‘your phone has updates?!?!'” I rage at my fancy Droid smartphone. “I just updated it! I don’t know where all of my shit is from the last update! I don’t know where the contacts list is.” I mashed the touch screen and nothing happened. Then everything happened at once. Then things I didn’t know my Droid was capable of started to happen at random.
Then the phone shut off completely.
Part of the problem may just be that I have fat fingers and so when I try to text the phone thinks I’m trying to check the weather and/or play angry birds. But how exactly am I supposed to fix that? How many hours on the elliptical to get slim toned thumbs that don’t type seven letters at a time?
I talk to my electronics the way you talk to your wife when she slams and locks the bathroom door after a fight. I try not to move to quickly or startle the scanner.
“C’mon baby, C’mon just scan for me. Don’t worry….don’t worry… I never wanna going to hurt you I just…Whoopsie! Haha, you gave me a little error screen there but it’s okay…we can try again.”
Things ping, beep and flash and all together concern me. When I was a kid I had a temper that I couldn’t control so when something failed to work the way it was supposed too I would beat it like an enraged chimp, beating the stereo/computer/air conditioner with my fists until it would inevitably break. I had to stop doing that though. Not out of any kind of maturity or realization that this behavior was futile nut because I can’t afford to keep replacing that shit.
But as we all know you can’t just get rid of a habit you have to replace it with another one. Which is how to control my IT rage with IT sleepiness.
Instead of headbutting my printer when it jams I now wake up on my office floor with a wad of paper crushed in my hand.
“…So that’s when Sue said…why are you yawning so much?” My mother asked over the phone one day.
“I’m sorry.” I cradled the phone between my neck and shoulder and rubbed my eyes before banging the command key on my laptop again. “I just can’t get photoshop to save this damn file.” I yawned again.
“Do you need to lay down or something?”
“I think so. Can we talk after I wake up and reboot?”
“Yourself or the computer?” She asked dryly.
I delivered an undoubtably withering pause before saying: “Both.”
Having curbed my baser nature for destruction with indolence I’ve put my toe in the waters of the future with curiosity, wonder and slightly less apprehension. I spurned photoshop until I realized what it could do for my comics, rejected twitter until I saw what it could do for my readership and loathed texting until I realized that why I never knew where anyone was on friday night.
More earthshaking to my concept of self was when I had to admit that I couldn’t be a writer at all if it weren’t for word processing spell checking my documents because just now I spelled “because”, “becasue“.
Everyday, every moment finds me cowering like some sort of primitive ape in the shadow of some monolith I don’t understand.
But as bad as my fear of the modern world is It’s been brought to my attention that for some it is way worse.
The other night my neighbor Teri and I sat in my living room drinking Cabernet and bullshiting when her phone rang.
“Lawrence, Lawrence I told you where the new emails are didn’t I? Remember when I showed you how to use the arrow at the bottom to move the screen? Okay, Lawrence, I want you to look at the right hand side of the screen…”
I stared over my wine glass as the conversation continued in this vein for another five minutes. And then another five.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I asked.
She covered the receiver and hissed, “It’s Lawrence from the second floor. His goddamned niece just showed up one day and set up a laptop with Gmail and then left him with it. He has NO idea how to use the thing.”
“He’s a grown man! He can figure it out, he just has to fuck with it! Get off the phone!”
“SHH.” She uncovered the mouthpiece. “Lawrence, no, That’s just the drafts folder okay you don’t need to worry about that…I know it says there are two in there. That’s from when we emailed you cousin it doesn’t…No. No, Lawrence it doesn’t…”
I set my glass down with a clank. “It is our day off, Get off the motherfucking phone!”
Teri waved me away and so I stood up.
“What number?” I asked. Teri waved at me again and continued trying to trouble shoot over the phone. “What fuckin’ number is he? There is no way we can do this over the phone and I’m not spending the next two hours listening to this.”
“Lawrence, Okay I have a friend here who uses Gmail all the time. We going to come down and help you out okay?” Teri hung up the phone and looked at me. “Be nice.”
“I am always nice!”
She gave me a look and picked up our glasses and headed downstairs to knock on Lawrence’s door. Lawrence is in his late 70’s so I guess if you didn’t grow up with computers it would be hard to figure out what to do. Even things I take for granted like sending a picture to a loved one over email would be terrifically hard. Like starting university all over again with a major you weren’t interested or familiar with and taught entirely in dutch. (Dutch readers: Imagine a language that seems hard for even you crazy fucks!) I thought about being flummoxed by the lightning speed tutorials in art school and the confusion I experienced with FTP programs. I thought about how long it took me to be sure that in learning to use these machines I would not easily break them.
So I softened somewhat.
“All right. Everyone doesn’t talk while I am talking. Lawrence, sit in the chair. Put your hand on the clicky clicky rock.”
Well only somewhat. It was my day off.
And slowly I showed him the basics. This is the inbox, everything new will be bold face at the top. The magic gnomes in the laptop will never hide them from you. This is the scroll bar, this is the compose button. This is the Left clicky on the clicky clicky rock. Practice with the rock until you learn to only hit one at a time.
As I was wrapping up my lecture I threw in the most valuable piece of advice no one ever gave to me when I was thrashing in the net of confusion.
“You can’t break this just by clicking.” I placed a hand on his shoulder, magnanimous and wise. “Click on everything. It’s the only way you’ll learn and remember how your particular computer works. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of this thing from the future.”
I felt good. I felt the way the people who I called for help must have felt when they asked me to disconnect from my power supply and count to five before plugging it back in.
Of course I probably should have mentioned that, for all I knew that shitty Dell his niece gave him could actually break if you right clicked more than 7 times in an hour…But you know…too much knowledge can be paralyzing.