ARRGHware

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Let's face it, if televisions and cars worked as dependably as computers do, we'd still be reading books and riding horses. Just in case you're wondering, this isn't the start of a neo-luddite rant. I love computers. Or at least, I've embraced what they're capable of. Still, it's a troubled relationship.

When I was younger and more naïve, I was willing to take most of the blame. If software didn't do what I wanted to do, I accepted that this was my fault. That was back in the era of WordPerfect 5.1 and Word 4.

Nowadays, I know that a great deal of computer-associated error is still due to my imperfect knowledge - but I'm a little less willing to adopt the mantle of humility. For one thing, a lot of computers aren't especially dependable (statistics indicate as many as one in six PCs may be a lemon). I've also realized that software is just too complicated. I'm not talking about bugs - though those, as well, are excessively prevalent. Rather, the problem lies in what systems theorists consider a degree of complexity that is inherently unstable.

Most people still use computers for fairly simple tasks: word-processing; or e-mail. Yet the systems are unnecessarily complex. In a Windows environment, cursors - like small fleas - jump around for no reason; commands are not intuitively logical; systems freeze. Frequently, I find myself working around my system rather than with it. I lose my temper at least once a day. I've even coined a term for this mental state: "technoplexy." It happens too often - the tantrum induced by an overly fancy machine that can technically do so much, and yet - at this moment - is doing so perversely little.

An appropriate analogy might be between computers and bodies. If we (as the indefatigable apologists of Millentopia would have it) were cyborg creatures, we would need doctors the same way we need owner's manuals and systems support specialists. Just getting up in the morning would - at least once a week - involve sitting on the side of the bed with the phone crooked under your chin, waiting on hold for twenty minutes and listening to the same piece of Mozart you listened to the last time your legs.exe file was corrupted and you had to download a new pair of knees.

Computers could be designed more simply. Software companies could stop "improving" their merchandise and bundling the newer product with just-bought hardware. But it won't happen, of course. Computers aren't like cars - they can't kill you, so the stress they cause remains unactionable. Computers also aren't like TV - at least not yet. We can't just change the channel.

But one day there will be something of a revolt. One day, one too many cyber-peon will get fed up with a piece of machinery that can perform miracles on those occasions when it's not eliciting curses, and the screams of complexity-loathing passion will be heard across the land.

"everyone's a critic" is a rabble news feature providing commentary by various writers on, well, anything.

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