What to do when your computer works

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

Suppose one day everything in your high tech office actually worked the way it was supposed to. Wouldn't you be just a little bit suspicious?

Techwit By Jason Ohler

Fortunately for our great country, a small group of office workers on the East Coast were. And it's because of their suspicion that they managed to expose a plot by electronic terrorists to sabotage our nation' s fragile emotional stability in a truly ingenious way: by making all of the technology we depend on work as advertised. The terrorists' thinking was that if we couldn't blame computers for the misery in our lives, we would turn on each other. It's hard to fault their logic.

It all started a few years ago when enemy forces released a "good" virus into major computer networks in a few small cities in the eastern United States. Within minutes, mysterious computer bugs that had persisted for years cleared up without explanation. On that day in history, files saved quickly, reports printed flawlessly, Web pages loaded without a hitch and computers became so user-friendly that adults could use them without asking their kids for help. Planes even flew on time. It was all too much for people to take. Government officials were bombarded with calls from irate citizens demanding to know what was going on.

The government, quick to understand that mass panic was at hand, secretly obtained a low-level computer virus from the Center for Digital Disease Control and released it into the networks infected by "the good plague." Moments later, printers jammed, Web pages had dead links, and inscrutable error messages began reappearing on computer screens. Things were back to normal. Computer users were as cranky as ever. Calm had been restored.

The story behind the story here is that our enemies have discovered and managed to exploit one of our greatest weaknesses: our expectation of failure. While we might think the reason that we need technology is to be more capable and productive, the truth is that we need it so we have inanimate objects to cuss at. This allows us to reserve the civility we do possess for human beings. The fact is we have come to depend on technology to screw up and when it doesn't, friends and co-workers need to run for cover.

As with all life-shattering events, hindsight became 20-20 after the plague of the good virus. Risk management teams across the country huddled and emerged with new programs to deal with similar situations if they arose in the future. Like Computer Clubs. Many companies set up sound-proof rooms where employees beat old computers with clubs until there was nothing left but bits of mangled motherboard. Combined with structured aerobics, computer clubbing turned out to be effective exercise too. For the less physically active, computer shooting ranges became popular. Instead of clay pigeons, slow modems and fuzzy monitors were hurled through the air and pelted with buckshot by frustrated employees. Workers report that it's more invigorating than a double espresso. Administrators say it increases productivity tremendously.

There are two major lessons to be learned from this. First, if you are one of those seriously messed up people who actually enjoys having a computer that works, tell your supervisor immediately; most HMOs see this as a treatable condition and encourage their subscribers to address symptoms early.

And second, if one day you find that your computer seems to actually work, then shut it down, file a detailed report and go home at once before you start taking out your personal problems on the people around you. Just remember: Having a computer that doesn't work is not just a basic human right; it's your way of helping make life safer and more pleasant for everyone.

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



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