Computers! The world doesn’t operate nowadays without them. Are they man’s greatest invention? Perhaps. They have certainly taken over every aspect of our lives. They have affected everyone on the planet. There is no escape. Resistance is futile.
I went on a major overseas trip five years ago. Booked everything on the internet and for the entire six weeks I was away there was not one glitch. Everything had locked and loaded long before I stepped out of my house on the first step of my journey and was signed, sealed and delivered when I arrived on the other side of the world. No glitches. No worries. Everything ran like a Swiss watch (one of which I bought in Lucerne!).
Of course this reliance on technology has an occasional disadvantage. When a system crashes it can cause a world of hurt to those relying on them. A case in point is the airline industry. In recent times we have seen computer outages in booking systems causing horrid delays, sometimes for days at local airports and our own local Telcos are not immune from breakdown causing Average Joe public to growl and groan and weep with hysteria because they are no longer able to text, chat on Facebook or tweet or Instagram what they are having for lunch. And hey, that’s not a criticism of social media. It’s a worry about how heavily invested our lives are with technology. I have wondered from time to time how locals would react when confronted with a real crisis. Losing a couple of hours of internet or phone access is hardly the end of the world. But it does make you wonder how vulnerable we are if we ever faced a world wide catastrophe which wiped out our ability to communicate and operate with our vast array of technologies.
Humans are notoriously resilient. We wouldn’t have survived on this bog heap for as long as we have without being able to take a punch or two. Maybe we haven’t faced anything as disastrous as the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs (but we are due for another!) and we haven’t quite managed to blast ourselves into oblivion with nuclear weapons-yet! But a total breakdown of the world’s computer systems would certainly test our mettle.
I have in the last week or so had my own technological disaster. Our desktop computer broke down and along with it much of Linda’s and my life and plans! Airline tickets, holiday invoices, medical and tax records, flushed down the that big virtual hole in the ground (or deposited into that big cloud in the sky?) For a day or two I sat perplexed, not knowing what to do. I knew I had to do something but just who to call to get this sorted was a perplexing dilemma. There is a bewildering maze of advertisements for computer repair technicians and who is worthwhile and who is worthless is beyond my modest senses to discern. I did have someone out a year or so ago when we had a serious problem and I was on the verge of getting that particular operator out again when my step-daughter, an extremely capable young lady passed on a number to Linda of a fellow who services the computers where she works.
Within a day our new computer repair man was around to look at our woebegone machine. And it wasn’t good. The way he talked you would think it had been knocked out by a space laser! He gradually came to the conclusion that all was not lost before dropping into a technological burst of language that I felt the space engineers at Nasa may struggle to comprehend. Now, I’m not a complete dunce but this was one of those moments when you feel completely mentally helpless and hope that the person you are talking to doesn’t catch on to the fact that you are a fraud with no idea of what he is talking about. “Yes”, “uh huh”, “I see”, I muttered all the while trying not to appear like the original dead end kid. I just wanted him to fix it, not give a lesson in computer engineering!
Dave, as my erstwhile friend was known, soon decided a house call was not going to be enough to repair the machine and to his credit decided taking the stricken machine back to his workshop to diagnose it’s problems was easier for him and better for my pocket. I tried to look suitably concerned and project a look of appropriate understanding as he announced he would have to rebuild my Dell computer from the ground up.
Phew. That was painless, I thought to myself as Dave drove off. He’ll be back in a day or two, the machine will be fixed and normal service will be resumed. Of course it’s never that easy is it? Later that day Dave called. He had found some sort of exotic virus and it was going to take a bit to fix it. He was hoping he could find our data which had gone missing. Did I have the password to this? Do I have the product key to that? Is your email system Outlook? (I did know that!) Again he dropped into his computer lingo totally paralysing my already stressed out mental resources but, lucky for me, he needed answers to a couple of questions that only Linda could answer. I duly called my lovely partner and told her the computer man needed to speak to her.
Linda is a very intelligent operator but, like me, this technological jargon is a distraction and she just wants the damn thing back and working! But, she is very polite and quite inquisitive and doesn’t mind asking the hard questions even if she isn’t quite sure of herself in such situations. She and Dave soon seemed to have us on the right track.
It was a public holiday weekend here in Canberra, celebrating the birthday of our glorious Queen, Elizabeth II. But there is no rest for the wicked and Dave continued to keep us informed of his progress throughout the weekend, supervising an operation far more intense and complicated than the rescue of Apollo 13 from near extinction. On and on, Linda battling with an Optus call centre trying to get a password for her computer program, both of us shrugging our shoulders as we struggled to understand Dave’s messages and instructions being relayed to us vis text message. Finally as day gave way to night and the last vestiges of our public holiday slipped into oblivion, everything finally seemed to be in order. Linda has her password, Dave seems ready to re-enter the atmosphere with our machine intact and hopefully by this time tomorrow night we will have our virtual life back. Phew! What a trial. But it does emphasise how much in the thrall of computers we are and how we really can’t do without them nowadays. And of course most of us don’t want to be without them.
So, as I wind down and finish my blog post on my laptop, I am pondering the way that computer technology has creeped into and taken over our lives. Are there people who survive without it? Yes, but fewer and fewer by the day. Industries, including the one I am employed by are dying at the hand of the internet. For all the great advantages it has offered mankind it has certainly given us a few headaches to. But there is no going back. The computer age is upon us. We embrace it. We have no other choice.