by Michael Dymmoch
...the worst—for a Luddite like me—is a computer malfunction. Writer’s block, you can sneak around by doing more research; writing something else; brainstorming with another writer; putting on the right mood music; going for a walk... Kids can be bribed or sent to stay with Grandma. Spouses can often be distracted, pets ignored. But when the monitor won't light up, or the program freezes and you've tried all the tricks your IT guy suggested but the !__!@%$!%&! thing still won't perform, what do you do?
Generous friends may be an option. But they usually need their computers for their own projects. The public library has computers that patrons can borrow—even machines with internet access. But—Murphy’s Law being as inexorable as gravity—the computer usually malfunctions in the middle of the night, when friends are sleeping (or rushing to make deadlines of their own), the library is closed, and the IT guy's apt to answer his phone with "Who died?" (If you have the nerve to tell him just the computer that he suggested you replace three years ago, he'll either hang up or send you a bill you'll need a second mortgage to cover.) Even if the computer fails at a time of day when help or a substitute machine is available, the documents you need to access are invariably sequestered in the comatose depths of your machine. And the difference between your machine and any loaner causes you to stumble over the keyboard and be distracted from your subject.
My computer (I thought) was recently hit with a bout of narcolepsy. It was programmed to go into sleep mode after half an hour of inactivity, and when I shook it awake, it would power up just long enough to display the type-password screen before it went back to sleep. Hitting various keys and moving the mouse failed to arouse it. Turning the computer completely off, then back on worked after several tries, but I was frantic, even when it stayed awake. My computer's a Mac. It's not supposed to do things like that. My IT guy happens to be my son, who came by my place as soon as I mentioned the problem. After a preliminary exam, he disconnected the machine and took it home for the weekend. When he brought it back, he pronounced it fit and hooked it up, and it behaved normally. Until he left. Then it went back to its old new trick.
I put in a panicky phone call. "Now what do I do?"
The computer's fine, Mom. Try turning the monitor off and on."
"How do I do that?" (Yes, I am that computer illiterate. The monitor is hooked up to the Mac. It goes on when the computer is awake, and off when the computer is in sleep mode. I know how to wake up the Mac. Up to now, that's all I've needed to know.)
"Push the on-off button below the screen."
"Which one is that?"
"The one next to the orange sleep-mode light." (Good IT guys are saints. I've had this same patient response from my son on several occasions as well as from the techies at Speakeasy when I've called about problems with my internet connection. I, myself, would have all I could do just to keep from reaching through the telephone lines to strangle me.)
I tried turning the monitor off and on. The screen lit up briefly, then went dark. But... "It won't stay awake."
"You may have to try several times."
I tried it again. And again. Each time the screen lit briefly, then went dark. Finally, it stayed awake.
"Yeah! It's working. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
"You'll probably have to get a new monitor."
"But this one is fine once it wakes up. The screen is beautiful. Can't I just get it fixed?"
"Nobody fixes monitors anymore."
That was a month ago. The monitor still looks great but it's been hitting the snooze button so many times, before finally staying awake, that my son came over yesterday and gave the Mac electronic insomnia. It won't go to sleep again until he's gotten me a replacement monitor. It makes me sad. My old monitor is still beautiful and sharp, and I'm used to it. And if I were willing to waste the electricity, I'd just let it stay turned on until it nods off forever. But soon I'll be shopping for a new monitor, and taking the old one to the tech trash place.
And meanwhile, I'm stocking up on paper and pens.