Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Fiendish Things, Computers

My first computer was a Toshiba laptop that used to make a grinding noise when it saved things. I found the sound endearing – I think my brain probably makes a similar noise every time I try to think. That machine was quite simple. You fed it floppy disks and it saved stuff you wrote. That was all it did – or all I used it for. This was 1987. The Internet hadn’t been invented - or at least not where I live.
I stuck with that machine until it gave out one day. I even kept it for a couple of years after that, hoping it might suddenly come alive again or that someone might know how to revive it. In the end though it got left behind somewhere when we moved house. It’s probably still lying on top of a cupboard, unnoticed by the new tenants in that flat.
I’d invested in a new machine in the meantime anyway. I’d started out on the Net. It wasn’t the same though. This computer did more things than my first one; in fact, it seemed to have a mind completely of its own. Its cursor leapt about when I didn’t expect it to and it told me to shut down for updates, even though I didn’t want to. Quite regularly it informed me without warning that I’d made a fatal error and would stop working altogether, which I thought pretty rude.
Now I’m punishing it by treating it as a radio and television and ignoring it for virtually everything else. I’ve bought myself a pocket-sized thing called a netbook instead. This object claims to resemble a clam shell, although I can’t see how, unless somewhere deep in the ocean there are clamshells that are oblong shaped and made of shiny black plastic.
Disappointingly it’s turned out to be almost as uppity as the one it is replacing, refusing to do half the things I ask. Just today I decided to load a new programme onto it and it would not agree. The task consumed hours – not metaphorical hours, but actual hours, most of them spent stuck in some weird technical roundabout. The computer groaned and whirred and I fed it disks. It didn’t raise any problems and then on the last disk it expired. I tried again and the same thing happened.
On the third attempt, it wouldn’t progress beyond disk number 1. It clamoured for it back every time I took it away and then clamoured for disk number 2 whenever I gave it number 1 back. It reminded me of the magpie babies I can hear all around the house, yabbering at their parents for food – why are they there now, when it’s almost autumn I wonder; aren’t birds supposed to have babies in the spring?. Anyway I gave up in the end. I'm beginning to sympathise with the man in this video who wishes we’d stuck with the scroll:

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