Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Abort, retry, fail

Most aspects of modern living have been transformed by ubiquitous computing, generally for the better. As a writer I can't imagine not using a computer. People really typed on typewriters?

So how is it okay that PCs are still so unreliable? Even under the best of circumstances, people routinely lose valuable time because their computers are behaving strangely. Under worse circumstances, files mysteriously disappear, hardware malfunctions in ways that are flaky and inexplicable, and viruses and spyware grind computers to a halt. Personal computers have been around since at least the Ford adminstration, but for all the trouble they cause, you'd think the inventors were still working the kinks out -- which, I suppose, they are.

How do you respond when things go sour in computerland? Do you scream and pound tables? Speaking personally, I have, for better or worse, learned to be patient in the face of digital mayhem. After college, I worked for five years at a Chicago consulting firm where I was a sort of jack-of-all-PC-trades. I wrote software, installed computers and networks, and explained to customers how things worked. I also took the despairing phone calls when the inevitable meltdowns occurred.

Here is what I learned in five years: all software has flaws, all computer equipment fails (sometimes it literally bursts into flames), and the only healthy response to chaos is calm -- and, for the guy who is in charge of fixing stuff, a little curiosity: Now I wonder what could be causing that?

Do computer woes make you crazy?

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