Saving the Dinosaur

A bezillion years ago, I stood in my hometown’s public library and made the decision to become a writer. From that point forward, I pursued all the necessary avenues:
1) Learn to write a complete story.
2) Learn to write a complete story that’s good.
3) Learn to type properly.
4) Save for a new typewriter.
5) Save for the best typewriter on the market.
6) Buy a personal computer.

By the time I achieved step five, I was an ace of typewriter technology. Since achieving step six, however, I have stumbled along the fringes of the techno-world. I ignore the pitying looks, the sidelong glances of my students when they catch me fumbling with which button to push.

Unlike me, they learned about computers in elementary school. They’ve never known a world where personal computers don’t exist. Some of them have heard of typewriters, but stare at them in antiques stores with little-to-no comprehension.

My world is different from theirs. It has spanned a broader, longer range of technology, some of it now obsolete. For example, I have known a world where VCRs did not exist, then they opened a new world within home entertainment, and now they have all but faded from cognizance.

(The violin should start playing now ….)

In high school–focused on my goal of preparing myself to be a professional writer–I chose typing class over honors American History, thereby sacrificing my chances to be class salutatorian. (The prospect of giving a speech at high school graduation versus a future as a prospective bestselling author? Puhleeze!)

In typing class, our first lesson was to learn how to fold the typewriter cover neatly and place it in the appropriate slot on our typing table. Although some people in this world may not know what carbon paper is, I know how to make an erasure on the top sheet without smudging the carbons beneath.

Yeah, no kidding. Big woo.

I also know a number of additional useless typewritery things, like how to count and divide spacing in order to center a heading on the page. You see, on typewriters there was no mouse to click on the “center” toolbar icon. Imagine! A writer having to learn rudimentary arithmetic skills in order to type.

My only official computer training consisted of two lessons at the IBM personal computer store, where the salesman perched on a stool next to me and showed me how to boot up a 64K floppy and how to save a file. The computer mouse didn’t exist then. Learning how to work that little gizmo came much later.

Now all this walking-to-school-in-the-snow posturing is just that. Posturing.

Uh, mostly.

I could have taken computer lessons any summer of my life since the darn things became affordable for ordinary consumers. I’ve never wanted to spare the time away from my real purpose: writing.

It’s like a car. I know how to drive so I can get where I need to go. I don’t know how the engine works. I cannot change a spark plug. I feel no need to learn these skills.

With computers, I know how to write books on them and a few other things. Beyond that, I never take the time.

I tend to change computers every decade or so, usually when the exponential zippety-zip-zip of technological advances means that I can no longer buy a printer that will speak to my elderly software.

Recently, I was faced with the danger of being left too far behind. My computer was coughing in the dust, gasping on the verge of no longer being able to keep newer technology in sight.

Good old XP could not upload my backlist book files to print-on-demand venues. Even writing this blog involved dealing with all sorts of bizarre error messages.

At some stage, you can no longer blame all your computer woes solely on the invention of Chrome.

It was time to either buy a new computer and be faced with the dreaded, to-be-avoided-at-all-costs Windows 8 or upgrade my operating system slightly.

I chose the latter option.

Now the reason I avoid changes for at least ten years isn’t because I’m a Luddite, or cantankerous, or a curmudgeon, or a miser, or simply lazy. I’m not opposed to new technology–as long as I can see clearly how it’s going to improve my standard of living or smooth my writing path.

The main reason I dodge technological change is because it means taking the computer down. I’m cut off. I cannot work. The book in progress is stalled and endangered while mysterious processes go on. So there I am, clutching my life’s blood in a flash drive, standing at the edge of the firelight while a witch doctor mumbles mysterious incantations over my PC tower.

Installing a new operating system this time involved these dreaded words: wiping everything.

With tech support dangling on the fiber-optic end of my phone line, I hastily saved critical files much like an individual running through a burning house. Get the book! Where’s the dog leash? Get the manuscript. Get the other manuscript. Is that the right draft? Where are my book notes?

And then we pushed the button. It was akin in some ways to the US president firing Nuke 1.

My computer was dead on the operating table … well, lying there on life support.

We began the awful process of resurrection and restoration. Now, those who can change the spark plugs on their cars or DO understand how computers actually work can sit back smugly and think, How sad. How feeble.

Yeah, it is. It also pushes me to that edge where panic is clawing in my throat. Almost always, there comes a moment when that reassuring little green light and graphic indicating installation is running smoothly is halted by a sudden and emphatic error message.

“INSTALLATION FAILED.”

It doesn’t help that installation fails on the last section of my new Windows program, a section that may or may not be critical to the entire operation. It doesn’t help that installation failure will only happen on the one night of the year when tech support’s due to go home and the new shift has decided not to show up.

(Imagine being halfway through your gallbladder operation and the surgeon goes home for the night, leaving you lying half-sutured on the table in the cold darkness of the operating theater.)

It doesn’t help that once that sleepless night is over and more tech support is found and installation is finally, mysteriously, somehow achieved by finessing our way around the glitch, the email remains down.

It doesn’t help that this is the precise moment my editor decides to email me the final proof of my manuscript-in-press and wants it back immediately. How do editors know to do this? They’re across the country and yet they can drop proofs on me at the worst possible moment. I liken this ability to the way my cat used to jump in my lap and put her fuzzy paw unerringly atop the very word I was reading.

It doesn’t help that my groggy invalid of a computer–now stitched back together in the awkward style of Frankenweenie–decides next to lock me out sans password, necessitating a furious disconnection of the tower and hauling it through pouring rain to the nearest tech/repair center.

It doesn’t help that although I can now play video on my improved computer, the audio card has died. And it doesn’t help that the repair guy–after annihilating the lock–shakes his head and mumbles that I really need to buy a new machine.

Let him be wrong.

My machine is off the operating table and working again. I have a new screen saver, I think. I have new icons. I have found my emails. I got the manuscript proofs checked over. I am writing again, and ongoing projects have resumed. The printer has been returned to its rightful status as the default beast in a strange hierarchy of places my file now can be sent. There’s still no sound, and something is funky with photograph uploading, but these are minor problems.

No longer am I debating each time I leave the house on whether to put that precious flash drive in my purse or secure it in a fire- and tornado-proof location.

The dust is settling, and I have almost recovered from several sleepless nights. Writing–which is the only reason I put up with computers at all–can go on.

For another decade perhaps on this creaky HP?

Ah … no, perhaps not.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Saving the Dinosaur

  1. Oh, I laughed and laughed through this. I call myself Techno flop. I try tackling a new skill all the time. That’s how I lock myself out of so many things. True talent. 🙂

    • At least you aren’t afraid to try! Years ago, I was experimenting with a brand new computer and managed to crash it big-time. My tech guy gave me strict orders to leave things alone. I guess that struck permanent fear into me, so now I’m not very venturesome.

      However, if computers are now made user-friendly for three-year-olds, maybe they aren’t as delicate and vulnerable as they used to be.

      Ever onward,
      Deb

  2. The dead computer with the ms on it reminded me of the Ellen Feiss get-a-mac ad.
    “It was a really good paper . . . .”

    I feel for you. Good luck!

  3. Thank you! I need all the luck I can get. Fortunately, I have terrific friends and some of them are able to guide me through the shoals of tech stuff.

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