Last week, my laptop got a virus, and there was nothing I could do except hope that it would get better if I turned it off for a couple of days to give it some ‘rest’. I worried. I fretted. I wrapped a blanket around it. I put a hat on it. Not for it, but it helped cheer me up. Finally I called my friend who knows about computers. (Actually, I called him on the afternoon it happened, but I had to whine for a few days and promise nachos before he would come over. Let’s be honest here.)
I sat with my brows knitted in concentration as he worked on my computer, deleting files and asking me questions I couldn’t answer for the life of me. Questions like, “Do you recognize this file?” and “You really don’t know how to use a computer, do you?” Goddamn it, I don’t. I don’t really know anything about them, and I’m not exactly panting to learn. It’s always been that way for me with complex machinery. I was never the inquisitive child who was filled with curiosity, wanted to know how things worked, and had a never-ending stream of questions about every unknown object. When I had questions, they were usually much more straightforward and narrow-minded. “Can I eat it?” I often wondered. And if the answer was no, “Can I watch ‘Rainbow Brite’ on it?” and finally, if the first two failed, before the thing lost my total interest it had one last chance. “Did it bring me a present?”
In fact, once when I was in college and should have known better, I opened a potentially dangerous junk e-mail from an unknown source because the subject headline said simply ‘present’. Indeed, the lure of A Present is clearly still strong. Much stronger than it should be for someone who is no longer six.
Perhaps one of my biggest issues with technology is that I expect it to be more glamorous than it generally is. This problem is best illustrated by an incident from my senior year of college. For several weeks I had been seeing flyers around campus advertising an “Artificial Intelligence Forum”. There was a picture of a human-looking robot on the flyer, and a bulleted list of related topics underneath. I thought it looked like fun. “Are you going to the Artificial Intelligence Forum?” I started asking my friends at lunch. “What are you up to on Friday? I thought I’d go to that Artificial Intelligence Forum. You guys should come.”
When the big day came I arrived a little late at the auditorium and stopped short at the door. The room was filled with chairs, the chairs were filled with people, and a professor in a lab coat was giving a lecture from a podium in the front. I found one of my friends in the hall and grabbed him. “Hey, did you check out the Artificial Intelligence Forum?” I demanded. “It’s just some guy at a podium, giving a lecture!” He looked at me strangely. “What did you expect?” he asked. “Dancing robots?”
Maybe I had.