Rev. Ivan Stang AT LARGE column 850 words

I would think that sooner or later, this comparison has occured to every heavy computer user. For some of us, it's not an especially pretty thought.

My computer and I are about the same age, relatively. I'm 43, and will fall apart totally without constant upkeep and maintenance. If I don't exercise, take my medicine, see a sawbones now and then, I'll instantly age into decrepitude, like Dracula when the sun hits him. That's just the way it is, starting at the exact moment that you turn 40. My computer is 2 years old. In computer years, that's about 40 -- already over the hill, but probably with a good ways to go yet... if nobody screws up, that is. And if it was made right in the first place.

The most discomforting similarities are between the hard drive and my brain. It was a good hard drive at first. Big too, a whole gigabyte. But now... now it's fragmented all to hell, full to the brim, beset by unexplained crashes and meaningless error messages, crammed with dozens of perfectly useless old programs that are switched on all the time for no reason. Maybe other 43 year olds don't feel that their brains act this way, but chances are, their situation is worse and they don't know it. Can't know it. At least my system-checking system still works (I hope), so I can try to compensate.

In both my hard drive and my wetware, half of the memory is taken up with pornographic images, or else trivial old nasty thoughts about my enemies, none of which even gets used any more. There are bad blocks, long stretches where NOTHING can be saved. Some of the most important files suffer from bad creation dates and damaged resource forks, or else were created by long gone applications. Thus the 'find file' feature is practically useless. Oh, those memories are all still there, all right, in fact they're "right on the tip of my tongue." I just can't get to them when I need 'em. Instead, they crop up when I'm searching for something else.

Strange clicks and burbles suddenly emerge from both of our chassis. Sometimes it's a warning that we're about to 'freeze up;' other times, they're simply unexplained. And spooky as hell.

I dunno, maybe I'm identifying with the machine too much. After all, when you get down to it it's just another tool -- a glorified hammer or screwdriver. They say that it's the beginning of the end when you give your computer a cute little name. Well... ulp... mine is named Muleskinner. (That's what General Custer called Little Big Man in one of my favorite novels.) I'll admit, at times I take its technical malfunctions quite personally, as if it were possessed with a malevolent consciousness of its own and out to get me. 90% of the time, of course, the problem turns out to be my fault. And then I feel guilty for yelling at it!

My connection to the outside world -- other people and other computers -- isn't what it used to be, either. It's like the server is glitchy and the Net is overloaded. There just isn't enough bandwidth anymore, anywhere. My eyes must be getting those nonvirtual jpegs in a corrupted form somehow, because I definitely ain't always seeing the same thing the sender EXPECTED me to see. And the WAVs are all scratchy and clicky and low-res, and sound like gibberish half the time, but I never know if it's me, the sender's error, the machinery or just sunspots. Some people have to practically thrust Smileys in my face so I'll know when they're kidding. And getting my own point across is increasingly difficult. I'll spew newsgroup-wards what I THINK is a well worded, perfectly typed, reasoned out argument, only to see it again the next day (trailing angry responses) and and reading like this: "YTOU STINKIN BASTERDS THIMK YUO KNEW EVERYTHINGF!!!! WELL GO SHGOVE IT!!! :<"

Another similarity: we both cost more than we once did. When I first began struggling with the Net, a wise man told me, "A computer is a box that, every 4 months, you have to pry open the top of it and shovel in money." We all know how true that is. It's equally true for a middle aged person with a family and the attendant doctor bills, food bills, shoe bills, etc. If anything the computer is a cheaper deal, and possibly more dutiful and respectful when the chips are down.

There are two obvious differences between the shape I'm in and that of my computer, and for those differences I give thanks daily.

1. Muleskinner wasn't made right the first time. His hard drive was bad and had to be totally replaced before the warranty was up. They were not able to do that with me, although I'm sure some would like to.

2. Muleskinner is stained all brown and disgusting on the OUTSIDE instead of the inside.

Back to document index

Original file name: The Hard Drive in My Head

This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.