At dinner we usually go around the table and tell one thing we've learned today, and so that's why I'm swirling my spaghetti and just finishing my remarks about chickens not minding rain. Now it's the husband's turn.
"Ahem," he says. "Today I learned that I have a dead Zip drive." This news falls upon the family with a thud. Just yesterday we ruled that it's not fair to learn the same thing several days in a row.
"All right, I'll take a look at it again," I say. Just how many times am I going to have to revive this thing? "Remember, it's drive E. Not drive B, like you were trying before."
"Drive E?" he says.
"Remember, you thought it was dead, but you were just calling it drive B?"
"Drive B?" he says.
Woe is the spouse in charge of family tech support. This is exhausting work. You are not simply the ever-chirpy computer geek agreeing to install some new software. You are married. You are the total emotional support service package, the shoulder to cry on as the husband stands weeping over his laptop and you urge him to pay attention as you demonstrate again the wonders of a Norton Protected Recycle Bin.
Many hours of my life have thus expired.
After dinner I revive his Zip drive, an external model he adopted from me last year after I got sick of how finicky it was. It is, I conclude, the wrong peripheral for the wrong man at the wrong time. "We're going to get rid of this thing," I tell him, reaching toward the USB port.
I see the look of panic wash over his face. "But how will I back up my data!" he says. He has a lot of backup anxiety. He backs up his hard drive every few hours. I have gingerly tried to tell him that most people find the once-a-week plan quite heroic. He says he could never live so recklessly. I tell him that this fundamental distrust of his computer's integrity might be at the root of his computer-literacy problem. He says maybe. (It also could have something to do with the polarizing effect that goes on in most marriages, each spouse gradually getting proficient/deficient in separate areas so as to maximize the total family skill set.)
I have no idea why this intelligent man refuses to take the time to become computer-savvy. I know it is not simply a matter of man versus machine. This same man is fearless on his giant farm tractor, tackling steep hills and impossibly thick brush. He's not afraid of that machine, so why this one?
He has no answer, only a question: "Are you going to back up my data before you pull the plug?"
I pull the plug. "Tomorrow we'll get you a nice, roomy external hard drive," I say. "You'll love it."
At the computer store the next day, I lead him to the data storage aisle. "How about this!" he says excitedly. "Look how small it is!"
"Honey, that's a memory key," I say. "It's for transporting data, not backing up." I move on down toward the display of 80-gig hard drives, while he stands there studying the memory key package.
"You don't think 128 megabytes is enough to back up my hard drive?" he yells to me.
Yells! Right there in Aisle 3, where all the shoppers are now looking up to see what sort of creature has posed this naive question. It all happens so fast, as if time itself is defragging. In a moment I find myself taking giant steps over to my husband, and, with a great thrust of wind, I spout, "SSSHHHHHHHH!"
He looks at me, yanks his head back in disbelief. "I'm embarrassing you?" he says. "Is that it?" He keeps yanking his head farther back.
"I'm trying to, um, protect you," I whisper. "I don't think the public needs to hear your questions . . ."
"You're embarrassed by me," he says, looking at his shoes. "I can't believe this."
Oh, dear. How do you clean up something like this? I try to cheer him up with the promise of an 80-gig drive. A 120? He isn't biting. Finally, I think of something. "Hey, remember the time years ago when I called Gateway and I was so proud because I was going to order a hard drive that could hold one entire jig-abyte of data?" He stops pouting. "And the guy said, 'It's pronounced gigabyte, lady.' " He smiles. "See? We're all new at this, sweetie." He nods knowingly, the two of us united once again, walking hand in hand into this vast universe of advancing technology.
Did I mention that this is exhausting work?
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.