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At War With the Computer

“Even though worker capacity and motivation are destroyed when leaders choose power over productivity, it appears that bosses would rather be in control than have the organization work well.”
–Margaret J. Wheatley

Whether you like it or not, computers and the internet today are penetrating every facet of life imaginable. Nearly every store or establishment uses computers to track sales and profits. Medical records are kept online. Shipping is handled via online tracking. Weather bureaus track storms and patterns against online archives.

And every day, computers are becoming more sophisticated and more like the space-age we pictured in the fifties. We are truly becoming a “push-button” society. With computers handling such complex tasks, I should be thrilled to have a computer in my home to make writing and working easier, right?
Unfortunately, no.

As a writer, I have grown utterly sick of the humming beasts taking up copious amounts of desk space with the omnipresent Internet watching my every move. When computers were more “limited”, they were far more useful to me. I could quickly discover the “notepads” and “Microsoft Words” of the system and immediately get to work. If there was a probem, I could fix it in a flash and resume without missing a beat. There were very little distractions beyond a handful of games and activities, and online speeds and web standards of the time made it impossible much less unappealing to while away precious hours on time-wasting sites.

What bothers me the most about all of this is that technology should be working for us, but in fact, we are the ones slaving away for technology. Don’t believe me? How much longer does your old computer have before it no longer supports the software you need to be productive? For how much are tech corporations holding your devices captive? The worst of it is that the people who have purchasing power are not asking these questions. Instead, they pay through the nose for their brand-new toys and the rest of us are forced to comply.

Am I the only person that finds this whole scenario insane?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for technological improvement as much as the next guy, but there comes a time when we must beg the question: “Is this really improvement, or just a distraction? Are we really getting more, or are we perpetuating a vicious cycle of sameness?” And the thing is: this is all coming from a computer affecionado. Yeah. When I was younger, I loved computers. At one point, I wanted a job where I could do nothing but work on computers. That was heaven for me.

Now, it’s quite the opposite…

As a result, I’ve made strides in stripping down my technology and doing more with less. Instead of waiting in line and clamoring for the latest and greatest that Silicon Valley has to offer, I’ve made a regular hobby of making computing powerhouses out of machines that most people would consider garbage, nowadays. To do that, I’ve had to rifle through decades of computer history and go back to my roots.

For instance, to type this article, I’m using a text-based Linux program called “Wordgrinder”. It runs neatly on my thirteen-year-old PC by typing a command at the terminal prompt and displaying a simple ASCII interface. (any of you kids remember ASCII?) No, it’s not bursting with useless options, oozing with flashy eye-catching charm, or supported by every Fortune 500 company in existance, but it fits me like a glove. I am a writer, and I crave simple writing programs that stay out of my way and let me work.

“But why are you going backwards?” I’ve had people ask me. “Why are you giving up new and functional for old and clunky?” That’s just it. New technology just ISN’T functional for me, and I know it can’t be for everyone else, either. When I’m having to answer a simple issue about a typical operating system quirk and people stare at me blankly as if I’m Linus Torvalds delivering a keynote at CES, it tells me that people don’t understand what it is they’re using, either and that it’s not fully useful to them. When elderly women buy $1500 quad-core 16GB entertainment rigs for basic web browsing and e-mail because the local Best Buy employee tells her to, it tells me that our current one-size-fits-all system just doesn’t work no matter how much money our overpaid IT professionals throw at it. Whether it’s popular, accepted, or not, I need something that works for me, no matter how odd it seems to other people.

People look at my old 1Ghz single core Celeron PC with 172Mb of RAM and 20GB of storage and see me as a charity case. “Oh, poor guy.” they say. “So behind the times.” Then comes the insult to injury. “You need to buy a new computer.” they say, over and over. “You need a new computer.” “You need a faster computer!” “You need a computer that has Windows 7” “You need a computer that can jump to the web with the push of a button.” “You need the latest updates so you can always be online!” Yes, I’ve had offers for people to buy me a brand-new PC box for free.

“Bah!” I say, slamming down my prune juice and swinging my cane in angry protest. “Git awf mah property with yer newfangled web whoosits and social whatnots!”

I flatly refuse it all. I despise the direction that the computer industry is headed, and would rather spend the time and energy creating something that works rather than supporting a system that not only doesn’t work but refuses to ever work merely to foster consumer dependence.

Our current model of technology progression is a sick one. It states that if you don’t have a computer that’s at least under two years old running Windows 7 or MacOSX Lion, it’s only because you are among the poorer class that can’t afford it. I beg to differ, because I’ve got over a thousand dollars in savings that says I can afford it any time I want. I choose not to, however, because I have better things to save up for than the consumer equivelant of buying a nuclear particle accelerator to crack peanuts.

I use nothing but open-source software because it’s safe, reliable and provides me with client-side solutions I need and trust to get my work done quickly and efficiently. I use low-powered console applications because it provides me with a tight, distraction-free environment to create without inhibitions. I depend on flash drives instead of cloud computing because I need access to my files at all times whether I’m connected to the internet or not. And most importantly, I used “underpowered” hardware to house it all because it’s all I need to be happy and productive.

Am I hopelessly out of touch and behind the times? Perhaps, but it works, and it works well. I couldn’t care any less if my computer can’t read a 2012 PowerPoint file or play the latest Call of Duty.

And perhaps if we all started telling technology what we need instead of technology dictating what we must have, we might all be a little more productive, a little less stressed, and yes, maybe a little happier.

In fact, I know we would.

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