There were two reasons I was determined to avoid computers, at all costs: the church I grew up in hinted that computers would help to hasten the ‘end times.’  Ironically, the denomination has now embraced most new technology; and in high school, my generation was told that we were the ‘in-betweens,’ destined to be left out because the traditional jobs were being held onto by the previous generation, and the new jobs would all go to the computer literate generation we were too old to be part of.  Yes, and you can see how computers have completely eliminated paper records and receipts, the way they were supposed to.

There were several contributing factors to my assimilation into the technological world.  The first was the apparent impossibility of replacing my electric typewriter.  (I didn’t know then that you can still get them at Staples–or you could a few years ago, I haven’t checked lately.)  With resignation, I went to a computer store and told the clerk I wanted a small computer, not much bigger than a deck of cards, and it would be nice to have a fold-up keyboard as well.

Of course I didn’t actually think he’d come back with exactly what I’d asked for.  Except they were out of the fold-up keyboards, I’d have to use the stylus for now.  It was called a Jornada, put out by Hewlett Packard.  It turned out to be a complete handheld computer.  Music, yes.  Word program, yes.  Excel, yes.  Notes, yes.  Date, time, appointment calendar, yes, yes, yes.  And the first thing it did when I turned it on was to teach me to cut and paste.  It even had a Compact Flash card socket for added memory.

Handheld PC’s are supposed to last about six months, but I’ve been getting two years or more out of them.  That’s huge, for a writer.  I’ve gone through two Jornadas, and I’m now on my second IPaq.  I’ve gone through three fold-up keyboards.  Not bad for storing all my ideas, then writing a series of novels.  The one thing that made them all so much fun was how user friendly they were.  They seemed to anticipate what I’d need before I did.

You see, I think computer designers install a secret bit of technology I call ‘an idiot chip.’  It detects how fluent and capable any human is on the computer’s current operating system.  HP is the only company I know of that has their idiot chip preprogrammed to actually offer help to the user.  The idiot chip in most computers just tries to make computer usage frustrating for people who already hate computers, a kind of cyber revenge.  (Don’t tell anyone!  They’ll know.)

Once I’d gotten used to using the handheld computer, it didn’t take long for computers to intrude into my life from all directions.  My workplace replaced cash registers with computers.  I read the manuals; most people don’t.  Soon this had the consequence of having all computer questions in the district directed to me, so the company IT guy had more time for serious questions.  I purchased a laptop with Windows XP before he did, so the novice got to instruct the tutor.  Then the library board I was on insisted on having all members sign up for an email account.  Even the library card system was transferred to a database.

Back then I bought a computer magazine, which was all Greek to me.  I’m sure it would make almost perfect sense now, kind of the same way I know some day I’ll understand what RSS really means.  (No-one’s sure right now, they just make it up when you ask…)  Apparently, I’m ‘a natural’ when it comes to computers.  The scary thing is that people were asking me for help before I knew anything.  Usually I managed to resolve the problem.  Maybe that same thing that attracts animals and small children to me also works with computers.  Then again, with three older brothers, I developed an early affection for ‘gadgets.’  Perhaps the idiot chip is also designed to detect that.

I realized it was time for a new laptop when mine wasn’t running fast enough to upload my latest novel to my publisher.  I had to download the manuscript to a memory stick, then upload it directly from the stick to the publisher’s site.  Throughout this process I learned that some things can be changed when files are transferred back and forth.  First, the three dots you use for leaving a sentence hanging…  The memory stick liked to change them into number signs and other symbols, the comic book representations of a character swearing…  Not good, definitely not user friendly.  I don’t allow much profanity in my novels, even by accident.  Then I learned that the old Word commands for three dots is now obsolete, which may have been why the memory stick corrupted them.  Of course this created a lot of extra work for me.

Once you become more or less computer literate, you must try to keep up.  Otherwise, you may find yourself at a severe disadvantage.  Fortunately, most people who work in computer stores are painfully aware of this; they can be an invaluable source of information, as their job requires them to know more than most people.  Unfortunately, most ordinary computer users tend to learn ‘only what they need,’ not realizing that they could get more usage out of their home computer, and with less effort, if they would only keep scanning the horizons of technology’s new frontiers.

I found a lot of the young people who were supposedly computer literate were extremely hesitant to use workplace computers.  I’m not sure why that is, although I suspect it may have been the result of too many computer crashes in schools.  When you’re first learning, it’s very easy to crash a computer.  Imagine a poor teacher facing a room full of students who don’t know enough yet to avoid crashing the computers or even shutting down the system entirely.  A frustrated educator might be tempted to discourage computer use in his or her class altogether.  Maybe that scenario never happened, but it could be an explanation for young people avoiding computers.

I’m not an expert, nor do I have the time to learn everything there is about computers.  That’s the point.  I look for things that I can understand, things that are user friendly, and things that can promote my novels.  (My hidden agenda for having a blog in the first place…’blog,’ what is that, something I can use?)  Then it turned out to be fun, something I couldn’t resist.  I think I’m now a borderline addict where computers are concerned.  WordPress appealed to me because of its more academic nature–real topics, written by people who want to share what they know or think.  Sure, you can find stuff about last Tuesday’s leftovers, but not unless it interests you.

Thanks for reading.  (And if you can, thank a teacher!)  🙂

Phyllis K Twombly

About Scifialiens

Author of the Martian Symbiont series: three titles, so far; Been Blued, Martian Blues, Martian Divides. Currently writing screenplays. 'Mating With Humans' can be found on her account. Enjoyed writing from the start. Also a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan. Canadian so far. Paternal grandparents were American. Feels more at home in the States. Loves dogs and most other animals. Loves cats from afar--allergies. Plays flute and saxophone; 'messes with' keyboard and electric guitar. Single so far. Not really looking at the moment. Age: irrelevant. Not to be confused with the fictional comic book character, Phyllis Twombly, who lived for 600 years in the American Midwest.

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