December 23, 2004

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 the 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]

Posted by Vanderleun at December 23, 2004 8:35 PM
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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.

STFU Gerard. It's Christmas ferchristsake.
Have a fucking holiday. Chill. Eat some turkey.
Enjoy the view. Take the wife for a beach drive.
Throw some dough at the Salvation Army kettle.
Burp. And love life old man. Love it like it's
the last one one you'll get. Smile. Grin. Laugh
out loud. Be of good cheer Gerard, tis the ...
season. Merry Christmas my friend.

Posted by: Steel Turman at December 24, 2004 9:20 AM

I go the other route. I spec it and build my own. Kind of rules out Macs, but I have built a few dozen PCs and Linux boxes in my day.

I administer a reign of terror over my machines as complete and terrible as Stalin himself might run, were he living in these times.

I have no troubles. Only specifications and utter compliance to my unbending will.

Posted by: The Colossus at December 24, 2004 9:54 AM

In the previous millenium, I bought software and PCs like my parents bought Chevys, every two years or when the ashtray got full, whichever came first. But now, unless you're a gamer or pathological mp3 collector, who needs a 'leventy gigahertz processor and terabyte disk drives? I suspect part of the commoditization of the PC market comes from the dreary fact that every upgrade is the same old sh*t, only more so.

I don't want a computer, I want a robot that does all this stuff with me just telling him. Oh, and it IS the 21st Century--so where's my damn flying car?

Posted by: slimedog at December 24, 2004 11:18 AM

LOL from someone who spent Xmas festooning her new Panther OS with themes, rearranging her fonts, tweaking the preferences, downloading trivial shareware, and organizing her mp3s.

Posted by: Yehudit at December 25, 2004 6:22 PM

ROFLMAO! Great diatribe! Being a computer geek extrordinaire (somewhat like The Colossus, but with less Linux experience), I can understand the love/hate relationship with a new computer.

Heck, I just wanted a fully loaded Fragbook DR 6800 from Falcon Northwest (with the American flag theme painjob and matching mouse)...and my two front teeth. Thank God I still have my two front teeth. ;)

BTW, I linked this article at my site. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Michael Jones at December 26, 2004 9:26 PM