As far as I'm concerned, the computer I use at work is a typewriter that glows in the dark--a typewriter with its own party line. It is wired to other computers throughout the newspaper on a message system that allows anyone at the paper to contact anyone else electronically.
For example, with just a click of a key I can "message" my friend Gino with critically important work-related information that will help us win the Pulitzer Prize, such as: "FYI, I peed in the coffee machine again."
As with any new technology, though, there can be some "glitches"--an ancient Gaelic word meaning "stuff that can get you fired." For example, instead of sending the message just to Gino, I could click on the wrong thing and send it to everybody in the newsroom. Whoa! The next thing you know, I'd be taking orders at a drive-thru, or as they say in Gaelic, "Would ye be wanting fries with that, laddie?"
That is why it is very important to have years of computer training given by competent professionals. The problem is, computer training appears toxic. I mean, will you look at these people? They're like House Republicans, without the overwhelming charisma.
And they're relentless. My computer is constantly blipping with indecipherable messages about things I'm completely unfamiliar with: The CCI is down. And the CCI is up again. And the AGT is down. And the AGT is up again. I sit at my desk wondering if I'm working at a newspaper or a Viagra clinic.
(But seriously, I feel terrible, naturally, when CCI is down. But I also felt terrible when Roy Rogers's horse, Trigger, died. And I got over it.)
Computer geeks divide people into categories, including those who are eager to have the latest technology, called "early adapters," people like my friend Richard. He has programmed his state-of-the-art laptop computer so he can use it as a radio, a telephone and a garage-door opener. He asked me if I wanted to do anything exotic with my computer. I thought briefly about rubbing mayonnaise on it.
"Actually, I just want to type on it," I told him.
So, unquestionably, I was the wrong person to receive the following message:
"Please update your virus software! A new virus, worse than the Melissa virus of a few months ago, has surfaced. It can affect PCs with Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT.1. Make sure you are connected to the Internet; if you are on the Newsroom network, you are already connected to the Internet. If you usually dial into the Internet via modem (IBMnet, Compuserve, etc.), connect before starting the update. 2. Click on Start/Programs/Norton AntiVirus. 3. Look for the 'Live Update' button. Click on it to begin the update. 4. You will be prompted 'How do you want to connect to a Live Update server?' Click on the down arrow and choose 'Internet.' 5. Click on 'Next' to complete the virus software update. As always, if you have any questions, please call Newsroom Technology."
Hello, I have a question.
What are you talking about?
You lost me at "Melissa."
When I read the words "Live Update server," all I can think of is Tom Brokaw.
Why are these people hounding me?
I still play ALBUMS. On a TURNTABLE. (Man, that Peter Frampton rocks!)
I mean, really, dot.com this.
Anyway, the systems people wanted to test "Y2K readiness" the other day, so they wanted everyone to shut off their computers.
So I messaged my friend Nancy: "I have to shut off my computer before I leave tonight?"
And she messaged back: "You have to shut it off in a certain way."
And I messaged: "What way? Do I press the two buttons?"
"Which two buttons?"
"Well, there's one on the bottom of the box where the screen is. And there's one on the thing the screen sits on; I guess it's called the 'table.' I've never touched those buttons, though. I've left my computer on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for years. I never turn it off at night. I just let it 'rest.' And in the morning I sign on, and I start typing these brilliant columns. It's a miracle, don't you think?"
She messaged back: "The 'table'?"
Then the computer people changed their minds. Or their microchips. DON'T TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTERS! they said in another urgent systemwide message: "Please remember to sign off and close out all of your applications. But leave the power on."
I messaged Nancy: "My applications? I've already been to college. (Insert drug joke here.)"
She messaged back: "Click on file. Click on sign off. DON'T PRESS THE BUTTONS!"
Within seconds I got a message from Don, the computer czar. The message said: "Don't press the buttons! I'll be right there."
(He must have been reading my messages. They can do that, you know. There is no privacy. In fact, they've been inserting suggestive lines in this column when I haven't been looking. Probably to get me fired.)
Get a load of the RAM on that cute new server! Wouldn't you like to download some of that, humma-humma!
Don showed up and looked at me like he was examining a Cro-Magnon Man.
"You don't use e-mail?" he asked.
"You don't use the Net? You don't link?"
"Not that I know of."
"You don't do anything with your monitor?"
"Um, I monit? . . . Look, for years I thought a hard drive was 200 yards over water."
He told me to go home. Put on my eight-track. He'd take care of the Y2K test for me.
"Will my computer be on when I come back?" I asked. "Because I don't know how to re-beat it."
"That's 're-boot it,' " he said, sighing. "Yes, it will be on when you come back."
From what I understand, the great Y2K fear is that we'll all go home on Dec. 31, 1999, and when we come back to work on Jan. 1, 2000, all the computers will have exploded.
I can't wait.