"I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user."
William Henry 'Bill' Gates III.
An easy statement to make, I'm sure you'll agree, if you're worth in excess of US$56 billion off of the back of them.
I, a humble 'end-user', think Billy Boy is absolutely correct with his summation, but perhaps not for quite the reasons he had in mind, when he uttered that statement. And I'll try to explain why.
First I will dissect his statement, I shall attempt to liken my personal experiences of computing, to that which he talks of.
I think computers are empowering, but only if that empowerment means knowing when you're beaten, and in turn having control over the final decision of which wall to throw the bastard thing at.
Tool of Communication.
I truly believe that the most communication I have ever been granted by the various computers I have owned and used through the years, is the long and air splitting, verbal tirade of profanities, aimed directly at the innocent looking monitor, as it tells me a 'fatal exception has occurred', when all I did was try to open Windows Explorer in the exact same way I have done a thousand times before.
Tool of Creativity.
I have found computers to be increasingly creative, whenever I'm around them. It's pure genius that after four solid hours of typing, Microsoft Office can just freeze solid. Allowing you to do nothing about it. You can't save. You can't print. Nothing. All you can do is shut down, losing all your work. Genius.
I love the way that when I save a document, or photograph, or video, the computer creatively decides where it will save it to this time, ensuring that when I go to retrieve it at a later date, I won't be able to find it. No, it's not in 'Pictures'. Can't find it in 'Downloads'. Oh, here it is, in the 'System 32' special systems folder. Of course!
Shaped By Their User.
I have had two previous laptops that were indeed shaped by their user. The first I snapped in half, when I bent the screen back on itself because it wouldn't open i-tunes. The second I put my fist through the keyboard because it was being incredibly slow in downloading a You Tube video, about an American kid surfing on the roof of his dad's pick-up, doing 60 down a residential street.
So you see, Bill got it right, in my opinion, but I'm not sure it's entirely what he meant.
Now reading this, it would be easy to argue that I have possible anger issues. Maybe I need some counselling, if I'm beating up inanimate objects and screaming abuse at pieces of plastic.
But I never used to be like this. I was a happy-go-lucky creature. I was always smiling. Always telling a joke. But I'm full of rage now. And I'm convinced it's because of computers.
I remember getting my first computer. I was full of excitement. I could do anything, go anywhere on the internet, talk to people in far off lands, at any time of day or night. This was going to be great!
And it was, for a short while. But then came the first 'error' message. Then a few 'fatal exceptions'. Finally a 'system has performed an illegal operation and must be shut down immediately', losing all my work in the process.
I could feel it inside me. A strange sensation, one I had not felt before. A kind of boiling anger. My tolerance of subtle annoying things began to decrease. My temper was increasingly on a shorter fuse. It spiralled out of control, until I committed my first full act of technological murder. I pushed my computer off the desk one evening, cracking the monitor. I felt liberated. A much needed release. That'll teach the bastard! But then the guilt hit me. What had I done?
What had this machine driven me to? I would buy another (well, the insurance would), and this one will be different. I'll be kinder to it. Keep doing the virus scans. Defragment it more often. File things properly. Do system check-ups more systematically. It'll be O.K this time!
And indeed it was for a few months. But again, the machine wanted to test me. It wanted to stretch my patience, see how much I would take before snapping. Well it found out good and proper. I smashed that vindictive little shit in to a thousand pieces with an aluminium baseball bat. The screen made a fantastic popping noise as I hit it again and again. The tower didn't even see it coming, as I layed the boot in to it's smarmy 'butter wouldn't melt' casing!
I buried that bastard in the garden.
I was in a vicious cycle then. I had got the bug. Or the bug had gotten me. It seems that all computers were out to get me. I went through lap-tops, more PC's and I even took my murderous intent to the workplace.
Although I could never fully destroy a work computer, for fear of being caught, there are several machines whose disc drives are no longer functioning. A few keyboards with dodgy, sticking letter keys. A few mice that disappeared, never to return. I could be creative too, you know!
And so it went on. But the animosity began to spill over in to other technologies. I think the computers have opened their mouths and began talking to other devices about my fears. iPods have systematically turned against me. Well five so far and counting, have. A DVD player tried being smart with me one evening, much to it's regret. And I don't like to talk about the laser-jet printer incident, a real low-point in my life.
But still they taunt me. They are better, quicker, faster. Yet they always stop working when I need them most. They always lose my work at the most inopportune moment. I hate them. But I need them. All of them.
Or do I? As I write this now, on my laptop that has already crashed once today, and received a smack in the keyboard for it's trouble, I wonder if I should give up. Should I retreat from this modern world? But how? Computers are ingrained in our lives. A part of modern life. Everything is run and managed by them. Everywhere you turn, computers. From simple traffic lights to aircraft and the systems that control them. Televisions, media, even the microwave that cooks your food. Computers. Your bank account, and the machines that we trust to give us our own cash. Computers control it all. I can't get away from them.
And I certainly can't kill them all on my own.
So I will have to put up with them. Learn to get along with them, or face a stress related heart-attack at 40 because of them.
Computers have brought many things to our modern lives. Things that have been said time and again. I refer once again to Mr Gates above, communication, empowerment, creativity. But lets not forget, and perhaps add to that list if I may, stress, anger, resentment, confusion, rage, pain, suffering, despair, guilt and huge repair bills.
And all this while not actually doing the job we bought them for in the first place. Not bad, eh?
"Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."
Stephen Gary 'Woz' Wozniak