Make My Computer Work, I Won't Ask How

    I’m sitting here typing this in a crowded, noisy, smelly computer lab for one reason and one reason alone: My computer has decided to become a doorstop. Suddenly, and without warning, I have been put at the mercy of hair-pulling screens of blue that I thought were reserved for Windows 98 users and stuck staring at a useless box that refuses to even sound like it’s turning on.

    Needless to say, this is fairly a heart-stopping event. In a world where nearly a quarter, if not more, of my responsibilities require the use of a computer, I find that I’m left completely cut off from a major part of my life. Luckily, I’m a college student and have access to any number of computer labs, but this event has clearly illustrated one fact: I am completely dependent upon machines, but I have no idea how they work.

    After all, I wouldn’t be quite as enraged about this situation if there was something I could do about it. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient; if my car breaks down, my heater stops working or my furniture falls apart, I know how to fix it. But my computer? All I can do is remove the battery and keep pushing the “”on”” button, hoping that the computer gods will take pity on me. And even those previous situations are becoming hopeless as well; with the addition of computers in my car, I find that the amount of problems I can fix without taking it into a shop are rapidly declining.

    Essentially, of the three pieces of technology I use most — my computer, my cell phone and my car — I have a 50-50 chance of being able to fix one of them. The rest of the time I find that I have to call a specialist — a process that often turns out to be expensive in either time or money, both of which are commodities that I can’t afford to waste.

    Honestly though, I’m not sure what else I can do. Even if I had the time and drive to learn how to fix my computer, or the money to acquire the tools, I can’t specialize in everything. What about my cell phone, or my MP3 player? And despite devices like the new iPhone, which are working to decrease the amount of gadgets in my life, I still find myself dependent on more and more technology that I don’t understand.

    For example, the newest fad in home building is the home automation system, one of which is pioneered by Ken D. Eckhaus & Associates. The system links all of the home’s gadgets together and allows for synchronization between them, such as having the system turn on at preprogrammed times or having the lights flash when the security system notices an intruder.

    This seems like a great idea and, as Eckhaus said in Building Products Magazine in 2005, he’s even had it sell the house. But he also admits that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the customer grasps just what is going on.

    “”Sometimes [the potential buyer] doesn’t understand it, but they know they’re going to love it because it will simplify their life,”” Eckhaus said.

    Reading that sentence, I find myself suddenly visualizing the poltergeist-like effect that a house’s computer crashing could cause. But at the same time, I like the idea of a house catering to my every need, just like I like my cell phone and my computer. I just want them to be user-friendly enough that I can fix the majority of their problems myself.

    Back in 1997, the founder of Thinking Machines supercomputer company Danny Hillis told Newsweek, “”You don’t think of a pencil as technology, because it just does what it’s supposed to do. You don’t think of a book as technology because it’s been refined enough that it becomes invisible. … You still think about computers a lot. I think technology is all the stuff that doesn’t work yet.””

    Computers have come a long way since then, but we’re still here, stuck in a place between understanding technology and not needing it.

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