Friday, November 16, 2012

Grateful for a Computer With a Heartbeat

This week, just as I was on deadline for the Huntsman Post,my computer crashed. To use a football analogy to show you how close I was to meeting that deadline before the crash: I was down by two touchdowns with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter. I had come in early, was planning on staying late, and was believing that with a successful on-side kick or blocked punt I could still get a victory. 

Then, suddenly, just before the snap, each member of my offensive line died at the same time of a heart attack. That's the part where my computer crashed. Suddenly I was in a totally different game.

If you take away my ability to type and do e-mail, my world changes. After I organize and clean my office, all I can do is go outside and plant crops. Thankfully, the guy in the office next door to mine is Tom James. He has actual job skills and he deals in these type of work crisis situations every day at the Huntsman School of Business. Computers crash, and people run to him as their vocational world starts to unravel. He calmly goes about defragmenting hard-disk megabytes and downloading drivers, and soon he is rebuilding things and saving the day. Since his office is nearby, I see this drama play out on a regular basis but, of course, it’s much more serious when I’m facing a technology meltdown.

While he was in the other room hitting my computer with those shock pads, hoping to get a heartbeat, I found an old laptop in my office that had been retired years ago because it too had a tendency to crash. I plugged it in, booted it up and it worked—sort of. Because I do a lot of my work in Drop Box, I was able to get to many of my latest documents. It was still a painful process to meet deadline because many of the things I normally do without even thinking became more difficult. Sort of like throwing a long pass after your offensive line drops dead.

Everything was slow. I could have run a lap around the building every time I clicked on something expecting a response. Normally, I have two computer screens, which proves extremely helpful when I am writing stories and press releases from typewritten notes, e-mail information or audio recordings that live in my computer. I couldn’t use those two screens anymore. I could still progress but it was like writing left-handed—underwater.

Within 24 hours Tom had my computer back to life and working again. It’s sort of sad, however, because she doesn’t remember me anymore and has forgotten all my preferences and what we did together last Christmas. She is sometimes confused when I ask her to do things she used to do all the time like print a document or launch a program. I’ll click on a program and she wants to know if I agree with pages and pages of rules before she’ll let me use it. She used to trust me.

It is sort of like in Star Trek when Spock was finally tapping his human side and then they killed him off at the end of the movie only to try to bring him back to life in the next movie. The new Spock had forgotten some of the Star Trek movies he made just like we had.

I remember as a kid I watched a cartoon show about the future called “The Jetsons.” In the episode I remember, two of the main characters were in the military and were being punished by being put on a clean-up detail. It meant that they had to sit at a panel and punch buttons and watch as robots did the actual scrubbing and sweeping. They complained to each other of the difficulty of the detail and how that part of the military, where they punish you with hard labor, not changed in hundreds of years. They weren’t doing any actual work. They were just punching buttons.

So what percentage of your day involves mouse clicks and typing? What happens to your world when your laptop crashes or your smart phone gets dumb? Have you ever thought doing something was too hard because it might have involved ten or fifteen clicks?

Now, I know where you think I’m going with this. You think I’m going to complain about us all using smart phones too much and never communicating in person. You think I’m going to advocate for an Amish lifestyle and a car that runs on corncobs. I’m not. The technology I use every day allows me to communicate, keep my job, and makes it so I’ll never ever have to go back to the circus where I grew up.

This Thanksgiving I’m going to be grateful for the very technology that everyone loves to complain about. I need my computer even if she seems distant to me right now like we are strangers that just met. I’ll win her over. And it just so happens that I care about my iPhone that connects me to eBay where there is soooo much stuff that I really need to buy before it is too late.

When I get home there is plenty of real manual labor to do. Don’t worry. I’ll stay connected to the earth. Most of it is in my garage and I’ll need to sweep it out. In one way, we are sort of like the Jetsons, you know.

Only in our case, it is my wife who has figured out how to push my buttons.

—Steve Eaton