Thursday, October 13, 2011

the turning worm

I got a new computer recently, or rather, an old computer that had been wiped clean and essentially restored to the capabilities of a computer from 2004, which means it was unable to do more than stare at the internet blankly and spin that damn rainbow wheel around endlessly. It’s a mac, and I’m very up front about the fact that I bought it purely for its customer service potential. I don’t really give much of a damn if it’s faster or “easier” or “more intuitive”—the first is nice but not much more than a perk unless we’re talking seriously slow as the alternative, and the last two are purely arbitrary. No, all I wanted from my shiny silver mac was to be able to not get treated like a dumbass when I needed something fixed. I am, technically, a dumbass when it comes to computers, but I at least like to be given the benefit of the doubt before someone talks down to me. Oddly, my male friends never seem to have this problem in computer stores, but as a girl-type person I decided to give the reputably touchy-feely techies of the Apple world a shot.

So I went to the Apple store, and it was so sleek and things were moving fast and blinking on the televisions set into all of the walls and I suddenly felt like a caveman in the middle of a freeway, or like my poor old computer must have felt when faced with the brave new internet that had sprung up since 2004. My god, I’d only just stopped owning a flip phone! I kept my head down and headed straight for the repair center, aptly titled the Genius Bar, where I had an appointment with, well… a Genius. That’s how they referred to them when I called later that afternoon to check on my dinosaur—they told me they were having a hard time reaching the Geniuses and they’d call me right back. It’s nice to know even Geniuses have problems with their phones sometimes.

But anyway, I went to the Genius Bar and told a person with an iPad (no clipboards here, naturally) that I was there, and then I sat down, and I pulled out my book and read maybe one sentence before I realized I was doing maybe the oddest thing I could be doing in that particular place. I was surrounded by technology that should be making me drool, and instead I was reading a paperback about parasites that I’d bought at a thrift store for a dollar. I felt like putting my book away would somehow count as ceding a point to Technology, so I pretended to read while I pondered. Had anybody ever read a book in this store before? Surely I couldn’t be the only one who eschewed e-readers because they don’t smell like paper and glue and because I like turning pages? Didn’t I want to examine some of the things on the shelves more than I wanted to read about liver flukes?

Well, no, actually. It’s not that I’m a total Luddite; I own a cell phone, and after all, a computer is what had brought me to this bastion of technology. What was perhaps spawning the discomfort I felt as I bent over my book was that I, unlike seemingly most of the other people there (judging by their lit-up faces, anyway), I’m not all that sanguine about technology. I’m wary of it, and I’m not sure I like all of the things it’s brought us, or at least me. I don’t want to spend an entire paycheck on a fancy touchpad; I don’t want to carry the internet around in my pocket. And Apple was the one--were the ones? Is Apple many, or singular? That could be both a linguistic and moral dilemma--who had put it there, at least for those who wanted it.

I’ve had a number of “friendly discussions” about smart phones in the past few months, and while I’m always forced to concede that yes, it would sometimes be handy to be able to look up directions while I’m en route somewhere, and yes, if I had a smart phone I could still check my email when my computer broke, I still have one major and unswerving complaint: as my friend Jim says, those motherfuckers are a killjoy. Imagine: you’re with a group of friends and somebody asks a question that nobody knows the answer to, and instead of debating the possibilities and going off on tangents and meandering around without conclusion, somebody pulls out a phone and bam! Question answered. Clearly, we as a species are still capable of the fine art of conversational meandering, but for how much longer? We have all the answers. They’re in our pockets. Or at least, in some of our pockets.

My Genius was very nice. When I confessed while he was unscrewing a panel on the back of my mac that I don’t know much of anything about computers, he laughed and told me that was why he was working there instead of starving to death as a stand-up comic. He told me they could update my operating systems from “snowshoe hare” to “jaguar” (or something) for free, and that they’d call me in a few hours when it was done. When I came back that night my computer was returned to me with a note taped to the front stating “Attention: this computer is Vintage”. I brought it home, and it’s faster than anything I’ve ever owned before. Not that it matters, because I’ll probably just check my email and make PDFs for work and write essays about technology in Word, but still, I guess it’s nice. At any rate, it does the trick, and it sits on my desk, not in my pocket. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll close this and go drink tea and read about parasitic co-evolution and then go to bed happy and sleep the sleep of the technologically inept. Which is, truthfully, just the way I like it.