December 22, 2007

Fear of Fritterware: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Last night I had one of the most frightening dreams a man can have. I dreamt that someone, who hated me very deeply, got me a new computer for Christmas. I woke up screaming, but the dream persisted. The horror! The horror!

A new computer! I could just see it. It had everything: a processor so fast that it was measured in googlehertz rather than megahertz, more ram than the entire sheep population of New Zealand, a hard drive bigger than the Great Plains, and a megaplex sized-monitor capable of displaying 2.5 trillion ordinary colors at warp six and with such a blistering intensity that your eyes boiled in your skull. A broadband connection so huge it could suck the Library of Congress dry in a nanosecond. The CPU was covered in sable. The keyboard fashioned from rare woods. The wireless mouse was surgically implanted in my finger tip so all I had to do was gesture mystically.

It got worse.

This Christmas puppy came loaded with Fritterware. It had Pantless OS, BrokenWindows 2010, HomelessOffice 2004, Internet Deplorer, Fretscape, Opensource Godzilla, iEverthingEverywhere and Pong. The Paperclip was back as the host of a computer training program aptly named RageMaker. When I opened the box in my nightmare my first impulse was to rip open all my other presents in hopes that someone had given me a gun so I could just shoot myself.

Nothing is worse than life itself than a fully loaded new computer, and I've been using them for nearly 20 years. Setting up a new computer is like getting ready to French Kiss an elephant; you know it will be a new experience, but you know it wont taste like veal cordon blue.

I presently own and operate three computers (One hopefully named "Power Macintosh.") I hate all of them in a separate but equal ways. I am not alone.

Given the desperation of AOL (Available Now:A free computer with only one year of six million popup ads!), the Piranaesque Dell feeding frenzy, and the return of Web TV (Just Right for Grandma and so simple from Microsoft!), I know that all over the world this holiday season, millions upon millions of people will be receiving new computers, and that they will truly be the "gifts that keep on giving." Their gifts will be confusion, puzzlement, frustration, despair, disgust, and homicidal rage. As people across the globe attempt to install backup drives, get modems to dial, configure wireless networks, cheat at Solitaire, and sign-up over the telephone lines for America Online Sometimes, suicide hotlines will begin jam as human beings come face to face, not for the first time, with the only machine in history that makes its customers into human lab animals. And makes them pay thousands of dollars for the pain.

How did we get here?

Why have we become a world of sheep begging the Bill Gates' of the Silicon City to not only clip us, use us, keep us on hold to their aptly name "Help Lines" for hours at a time, and then clip us again with "upgrades" to programs that are less than six months old?

When did we become like junkies who don't even get the first one free, but have to go back time and again to get the latest, greatest, fastest version of something we didn't really need in the first place?

How did we lose our sense of time being of at least some marginal value so that we patiently endure the loathsome America Online message, "Please Wait While We Download New Art."

The truth is that, over the last 20 years that personal computers have been a part of our lives, we have been trained to expect computers to fail. Weve accepted that they will screw around with our lives and our fortunes. We have slowly and without any organized protest, been suckered into being the Beta Testers for new software and hardware that not only screws up in predictable ways, but is known by the manufacturers to screw up in predictable ways ("The inability for the program to connect with the Internet? Oh yes, that's a known bug. Well have a patch soon. Just connect to Internet and download it.")

If General Motors were to release an automobile whose steering wheel froze without warning, whose engine took three minutes to load and start itself and then came to a halt when turning left and going downhill five percent of the time, whose windshield suddenly went from clear to black, whose trunk made ten percent of the things put inside disappear forever, whose radio went on and off without warning, and whose passenger compartment came with a dog that ate homework daily, and whose Owner's Guide was the size of a phone book printed in Farsi, would the consumers of the world line up in droves screeching Feed Me!?

If life is brief, how can we go on and on spending oceans of time dicking around with what is, for most people, only a very expensive version of an electric typewriter, adding machine, and mailbox? What can be the reason behind the thirst of millions to own computers with more and more features to fail, and software programs whose primary advance over the previous program is to enable you to put a drop-cap in a thank you note while secretly mailing your credit card numbers to Bobs Wild World O Porn in Bosnia?

It can only be that besides being junkies and sheep, computer users are also masochists willing to pay for being abused, degraded, humiliated and made to feel as if we hand the intellectual capacity of a planeria.

Well, this worm is turning. I, for one, am kicking the habit, leaving the barnyard, and getting the whiphand. After almost 20 years of getting bigger, "better," more powerful computers, I am now going to search for a smaller, slower, more dependable model. I want to find the way-new old computer.

Here are the specs for the computer I really want for Christmas:

1) I want it to go on and off with the touch of a button like a light or a television.
2) I want the mouse to go where I steer it.
3) I want the monitor to be big and bright and never fail.
4) I want ALL the drivers in place so I can drive it.
5) I want it to save everything I do in the background all the time so I never lose anything.
6) I want it to keep track of everything and never lose anything.
7) I want to never again see an error message that reads "Memory Fault at 000E461"( Nobody knows what that means, not even Bill Gates, but the preferred translation is "Neener, neener, neener!").
8) I never want to wait to wait while we download new art again.
9) I dont want to see Theres a 40 megabyte $99.00 upgrade for this software. Download? I want the software to be finished when I buy it the first time.
10) I don't want it to eat my homework, I want it to do my homework.
11) I want it bug free, freeze free, and fritter free the first time.
12) I want it to cost about what a decent 21 inch color TV costs and be just as quick and easy to operate.
13) I want it to listen to and understand my voice so I can never again feel I have to run Typing Tutor just to answer my email.
14) I want it to incinerate the junk email that fills up my hard-drive quicker than you can say "Make Money Fast." and send a letterbomb to spammer.
15) I want all the technoblather that this machines fills the world with to just stop right now! I never, ever, again want to wake up in the middle of the night staring at the ceiling thinking, "JAVA? What is it and why do I have to care about it?"

Personal computers for human beings have been around for over twenty years and it is long past time for the industry's 'experimental' phase to end. Its time for everyone who is tempted to buy a new computer to just say, "We're mad as hell about being roadkill on the Information Highway and we're not going to buy in any longer! Use some of your billions to make these machines fit for human consumption before you dump them on the market, or we're going to force our governments to issue global recalls on these tainted, virus ridden rotten machines! If they can do it to beef, they can do it to silicon."

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. This Christmas my computer nightmare comes to an end. Unless of course I get a copy of something like Uru, in which case I'll be right next to you on hold for an hour at the Uru help line.

[Revised and Updated from Christmas, 2003]

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Posted by Vanderleun at December 22, 2007 10:45 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Ah, yes. Now I remember why I'm so reluctant to buy that shiny new tablet PC...

Posted by: Mike Anderson at December 22, 2005 11:58 AM

What you want is the equivalent of a toaster. An appliance, in other words.

Yes, it will eventually come to that, but I'm not sure that you really appreciate just how friggin' complex these computers really are.

I don't think that the automobile industry is really a good comparison, but go take a look at the first 20 years of commercial autos.

Go take a look at the first 20 years of aviation.

Now think really hard about the 1st 20 years of personal computers.

Something different is going on now.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 22, 2005 1:26 PM

Warren Buffet says that he never invests in anything he doesn't understand. That's worked out pretty well for him. A similar rule should apply when buying a computer.

Posted by: Jonathan at December 22, 2005 6:46 PM

Didn't Buffet just lose a bunch of money betting investing in the Euro and betting against the dollar?

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 23, 2005 5:19 AM

Are you sure you want a machine that is smarter than you are?
The risk is that at the worst possible time, you are will hear the words "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that".

Posted by: Lane at December 23, 2005 8:07 AM

I saw the handwriting on the wall back when Bill Gates started "giving away" Explorer.

Yeah. Right.

On the back end, meanwhile, he was peddling his web development applications to marketeers which sported features that allowed them to plant cookies onto our machines, spring popups onto our screens, install applications uninvited onto our harddrives, and spy on us unawares.

There's no free lunch, kids.

Posted by: D.C. Hammer at December 23, 2005 10:27 AM

I have the cure for your new computer blues. Hope that Santa, or whoever plows down your chimney, comes with the new Apple iMac G5, the 17" screen is fine, the 20-incher is monsterous. You simply take it out of the box, plug in your communications devices and you're ready for rocket sled speed surfing. And to round off the pre-installed software, the Safari browser will quickly take you to the sites for OpenSource 2.0 (just kills the MS Office suite), Firefox and for e-mail, Thunderbird. All free and marvelously easy to use. Price - the 17" can be had for under $1,300 with free shipping, the 20" under $1,600 same free shipping.

And trust me, once the Mac hooks sinks in, you'll never use a "PC" again

Posted by: Ed McIntosh at December 23, 2005 3:13 PM

Everything the previous poster said is true. But go for the 20", Gerard. You're, ahem, over 40.

Posted by: Roger L. Simon at December 23, 2005 3:32 PM

How do you cheat at computer solitaire? Please tell me--I want to know!


Posted by: Steve at December 23, 2005 4:06 PM

When Ed McIntosh said "OpenSource 2.0", I think he meant OpenOffice 2.0.

Other than that, he's absolutely right. Apple's computers are the easiest to use BY FAR of anything on the market right now.

If you have to use a PC, though, your best option is to thumb your nose at Mr. Gates and install Ubuntu Linux ( Yes, Linux -- it's finally reached the point where it's easy to set up and use.

But then, Apple's computers are easy to use, too, and there are a lot more games available for the Mac than for Linux. It's a toss-up. The only thing I can say for sure is that you'd be better off with either of those options than using Microsoft Windows any longer.

Posted by: Robin Munn at December 23, 2005 4:21 PM

I've owned PC's for 20 years and couldn't even understand all of what you were writing about!

But I'm able to do nearly everything I ever want to do, with very little aggrevation, on my Apple iBook, once I got it a cordless mouse anyway.

Posted by: srhcb at December 23, 2005 5:51 PM


You'll shoot your eye out.

Posted by: Morgan K Freeberg at December 22, 2007 5:47 PM

Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared.

Posted by: Brian at December 22, 2007 9:54 PM
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