Monday, October 11, 2010

*The Clairvoyant Computer

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published January 14, 2010] © 2010

I personally think that it’s not too much to ask that computers do what you want, not what you say.

Not long ago, I was just typing along, minding my own business, when my computer suddenly began spell checking in German, cheerfully morphing my prose into variations of Ich bin ein Berliner. I officially dispute my engineer husband’s allegations that I had anything to do with it.

My husband will try to insist that I obviously “did” something as computers are, in fact, simply machines cycling ones and zeros, and not malevolent spawns of the devil as some might maintain. But he will concede that when, for example, a tool bar suddenly disappears, I might not have done it intentionally.

“So what exactly went away?” he’ll query patiently, knowing that this conversation is as doomed as many that have gone before it.

“Well, there used to be a tool bar thingy and now it’s gone.”

“What was on it?”

“I don’t know. But I know I need it.”

My techno guy presses on. “Would you recognize the thingy bar if you saw it again?” he says patiently. He recognizes the value of not getting overly technical with me.

Now there are those who think the Undo command fixes things like this. But they would be wrong. Undo fixes the text mistake you just made microseconds ago but the second you even breathe on the machine, it’s already moved on. The Undo command has a very short attention span.

Ditto, on-line help. Totally, completely useless unless you know the technical term that some eighteen year old acned techno geek gave it. For example, I lost an entire day of work unable to edit a document until my husband came home from work and observed, “Oh, you switched to Overstrike Mode.” A keystroke and it was back to letting me insert text.

“I did not switch ANYTHING!” I whined. “Why would I switch to something that keeps me from editing and whose name I don’t even know?” I can assure you that you can’t get out of Overstrike unless you know you’re IN Overstrike.

If a software company had asked me, and inexplicably they never do, I would help them design a computer that real people, especially aging non-technical but really nice people, could actually use. The Clairvoyance Model. Your computer would get to know you, realize that those nasty keystroke commands that are the boon of techno types, but the bane of the techno challenged, should be ignored at all costs. The Clairvoyance Model would quickly learn that you have the frustration tolerance of a gnat. It would sense when you are so aggravated with your computer that you are ready to drag it out to the driveway and run it over with your car.

And that would quickly prompt it to ask, fearing for its miserable mechanical life, the question that every computer ought to have poised at the ready: “When you were last happy?” And you’d say, “Just before you ate my toolbar.” And poof. It would reappear.

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