Techwit: Enter into Dante's 'Inferno' - version 2.0

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

Have you read Dante's "Inferno," the theological allegory written in the 13th century? It doesn't exactly flow like a Stephen King novel, but it does offer interesting speculation about the afterlife. According to Dante, there are nine rings of hell. Sinners are assigned to a circle based on how badly they've behaved during their lives. The rings run the gamut of human depravity.

Techwit By Jason Ohler

The first is for lightweights like unbaptized children and first-term politicians. Their penalty is to have the blues forever. The last ring is the worst and is reserved for traitors to family and benefactors, like Sen. Trent Lott and the computer-illiterate. Their penalty is to be encased in ice. In more modern terms this translates into being forced to listen to Barry Manilow music on high volume for an eternity.

Rumor has it that there's been discussion about creating a 10th ring of hell just for technology developers who make things that don't quite work. After passing on, they would awake to find themselves surrounded by potentially wonderful gadgets that are just faulty enough to make them crazy. They would open the tap labeled "Free beer all day!" and out would come nothing but foam ... forever. They could wait for the foam to dissolve into a little pool of beer, but golly that's annoying on a hot day in Hades. Or they'd use one of those machines that converts speech into words on a computer screen, but every time they said "yes" it would hear "no." The flaws aren't lethal, just frustrating enough to keep them slightly insane for eternity.

Software developers would occupy much of the 10th ring of hell for all the bugs they've created that drive us nuts. Like the software feature you've always wanted that requires you to press a key you don't have on your keyboard. Or the music-writing program I had that actually changed the notes of my song now and again when I wasn't looking. Or Microsoft Windows in general.

And there's the reverse situation too - developers who failed to add much-needed features to their products. Like whoever made the wireless microphone but forgot to include an automatic shut-off that senses when there's a bathroom nearby. There are many stories about speakers who wandered into the restroom while unknowingly still broadcasting through the public address system. Let your imagine take it from there.

Also in attendance in the 10th ring of hell would be the people who wrote all those downright unfriendly computer manuals. You'll be happy to know that they would be subjected to a lifetime of reading bad freshman essays. On the bench next to them would be whoever came up with all those product instruction labels that assume we're idiots. It's not a bad assumption, but do they have to be so blatant about it? Here's a list of actual labels I found circulating on the Internet:

On a bar of soap: Use like regular soap.

On a hotel shower cap: Fits on head.

On a package of bread pudding: Product will be hot after heating.

On packing for an iron: Do not iron clothes on body.

On a string of Christmas lights: For indoor or outdoor use only.

On an airlines packet of nuts: Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.

On a Swedish chain saw: Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands.

Would anyone get into heaven? Yes. The developers who create the 90 percent of all products that fail before they make it to market. These people would get an A for trying, and an A for having the decency to make something so bad that we never had to suffer through the upgrades. What would await them? Free beer all day without the foam. It would even be low-calorie and taste good.

Jason Ohler is professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast and can be reached at © 2002 Jason Ohler.

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