Life is great when my computer works

When my computer works, I get email letters from around the world, often exchanging messages within minutes, sometimes seconds. If a family member experiences distress, I know about it immediately, or at the least, the next time I go to my computer.

Centuries ago, long before the invention of computers and high-speed internet, or airmail and telephones, things moved slowly. If a son died in Africa or China the parents would hear nothing for about six weeks. At that point, they might receive mail containing three or four personal letters from the son, which they would read immediately.

When they finally got to the official letter at the bottom of the pile, they would learn that their son had taken ill and died weeks previously.

When we lived in South Africa, just 30 years ago, letters often took 14 days to arrive from home. Phone calls cost $15 for three minutes, back when $15 was worth over $100 of today’s money. When my Mother died on a Friday in 1974, my sister chose to use the cheaper, but faster, method of communicating with us in South Africa. She sent a telegram.

It arrived on Monday, the day of the funeral. We received a letter from Mother the following week, written just hours before she died.

Yes, when my computer works I know I live in different times. 

When my computer works, I can find almost anything I have written in the last 20 years. If I vaguely remember writing a newspaper column, a letter, or even a few lines of poetry, I can find it quickly. I just put it in search mode, type in the appropriate word, and listen to the hard drive searching gigabytes of memory. In a moment, the information I want appears on the screen.

When my computer doesn’t work and I want something, I pull out stacks of three-ring binders and scrapbooks and spend an hour, or maybe half a day, searching, reading sentences, or paragraphs, or whole pages. When I can’t find what I want, I start over, reading even bigger sections. While searching, I often move with my stacks of material from my office chair, to the floor, to the dining room table, to my big green chair, and back to my office chair. I rarely find what I want. I give up in frustration, and vow never to do a paper search again. By the way, I should never waste time looking for poetry. I rarely write poetry.

Yes, when my computer works I suffer very little frustration.

When my computer works, I can write hundreds, sometimes thousands of words each day. I can move words, sentences, even paragraphs anywhere on the page. 

Back before we had computers, I pecked away on an old typewriter. When I took college courses, my wife typed the assignments for me. If I chose to move words or sentences around, she would retype everything for me. If I wanted things typed a third time, she lost enthusiasm. I never went back a fourth time. To do that would have put me in mortal danger.

Yes, when my computer works, I go through life communicating with friends, avoiding frustration, and getting reams of work done. But if it quits working, if its hard drive hangs up, my brain tends to freeze. If its memory can’t find files, I begin to have attacks of old-timer’s disease. If it acts like it has a virus, I begin to cough and sneeze.

Why did I get mixed up with this perverse machine in the first place?


Ray Wiseman