Has the PC replaced the dog as man's best friend?
The rapid development of successive generations of high-speed computer chips has brought with it a bounty of personal amenities and business aids ranging from efficient interactive multimedia games to instantaneous online banking and trading to speedy access of CD data. But this high-tech blessing has come with a high-priced curse -- a humanization of and attachment to a machine, hitherto unparalleled in the annals of human history. If the personal computer hasn't yet replaced the dog as man's best friend, it's only because nobody has yet figured out a way to get it to lick your face.
Probably the most compelling factor in the humanization of the PC is its ability to hook up with the Internet. The notion that you can "meet" people for a "chat" while being alone in a room, catapults sociability to a new level - many age-old social mores fall by the wayside.
Gone are the days when you had to get dressed up to make an impression. On the net, you can dress down, slouch in your seat and have a hair-day that makes a thorn bush look divine in comparison, but as long as you know your gigabytes from your zip drives, you're a mega-hit.
"Quick fingers" no longer has the connotation of a guy getting fresh with his date. On the world wide web, "quick fingers" is the biggest compliment you can pay a guy. A compliment for a woman would be, "The way you think, reminds me of my motherboard."
One drawback of the online social arena, however, is that you can chat with someone for hours and not even be sure what gender they are. Sort of a throwback to the hippie days.
Although, "My car broke down," no longer cuts it as an excuse for tardiness, the high-tech counterpart, "My modem broke down," is even better. Due to a "modem breakdown," you can not only be late for a meeting or a chat, but also "leave" (disconnect) early. What's more, you can even leave right in middle of a boring babble - which is the rough equivalent of throwing a boring passenger out of a moving car in middle of the highway. Although, in a car, this may be considered rude behavior, on the net, it could be seen as a social improvement or "cultural upgrade."
To the delight of many (cheap) guys, a "date" on the world wide web doesn't cost more than a local phone call. Unless, of course, you want the company of a real human being and decide to actually meet the person you've been chatting with. But that sort of defeats the great achievements of modern technology.
What's more, with your social sphere on the net encompassing literally the entire planet, you may now have to confront problems hitherto unencountered. It used to be bad enough to meet someone who was "wrong" for you. Now you have to contend with meeting someone who is "right" for you, but on the "wrong" side of the globe. How do you deal with this? Do you travel half way around the world just to meet someone?
And what if you fly down to Sidney, Australia, for a date and it turns out you don't like the person? Do you say, "I have a headache, I'm going back to the airport to lie down?"
Some people take Internet sociability even a step farther -- they get married on the net. Such nuptials are rife with nebulous legalities, and should be undertaken only by those who are fully aware of their ramifications.
In an Internet marriage, crashing your mate's system on a regular basis may be considered spousal abuse. Uploading every time your spouse wants to download can be interpreted as "irreconcilable differences." If your wife finds you in a chat room with another woman, it could be grounds for divorce, if she can prove you spoke about anything but fiber optic connections and backup utilities.
Then, there are divorce issues that are not yet clearly defined. Upon divorce, does your spouse get half your disk space. If your spouse was granted the websites you created together, do you have visiting rights? If you were promised the floppies in a prenuptial agreement, how easy is it for your spouse to do a flip-flop on the floppies?
These and other such vexing questions should be researched before getting involved in an Internet marriage. You'd be well-advised to consult a high-powered attorney, one who can recite at least fifty-six thousand loopholes per second.
In addition to changing some social customs, the PC has itself become such a powerful object of fixation that some people see it virtually as a member of the family.
One case in point is Bob (this is not his real Internet "handle" - to ensure his privacy, I'm using his real name). Bob went so far as giving his Pentium 3.5 GHz computer a name -- Chippy. And for good reason. He says it does more tricks than Poochy. No, Poochy is not his dog. Poochy is his Pentium 2. His dog's name is Commodore-128, named after an old computer that didn't do much of anything. By some strange coincidence, his dog knows of 128 places to hide when he hears an intruder.
When Chippy came down with a virus, Bob rushed him to "Lee's Emergency Room" (a computer shop where many a warranty has expired while waiting for a technician). Being told to take two floppies and call back in the morning, Bob stayed up with Chippy all night, running an anti-virus program called "Chicken Soup." By the next day, Chippy was doing so well that his built-in tax program was able to demonstrate how you can legally become a Native American and claim your house as a casino.
Unfortunately, another friend of mine, Patricia, didn't fare so well. Her computer, Meggy, of blessed memory and storage capacity, may her chips rest in peace, met with an untimely demise, many upgrades before its time. One day Meggy was as healthy as a mainframe with six redundant backup systems (the computer equivalent of an ox), the next day her life was zapped out of her by a hideous power surge. It was horrible. I wouldn't wish it on a VCR.
Losing Meggy after twelve months was particularly painful for Patricia, who had been looking forward to nurturing Meggy through obsolescence. In search of closure, Patricia sued the power company for sixty-four million dollars - one million for every meg of memory she was deprived of. After several years of legal wrangling, she settled out of court for a year's supply of environment-friendly, natural pulp, glossy inkjet paper. Manufactured, I believe, by Kodak and Pepperidge Farm.
In the final analysis, the key to computer usage is moderation and common sense. Don't get so attached to your computer that you get emotionally distressed every time your AOL browser says "Goodbye." Get up for a break once in while - if you look out the window and see the sun expanding into a supernova, you've been at your keyboard way too long. Don't "chat" with anyone whose handle requires periodontal surgery to pronounce. And last, but not least, as soon as tech-support puts you on hold, put your house lights on a timer that turns them on and off every hour or so, so burglars know you're home.
Josh Greenberger: A computer consultant for over two decades, the author has developed software for such organizations as NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, AT&T, Charles Schwab, Bell Laboratories and Chase Manhattan Bank. Since 1984, the author's literary works have appeared in such periodicals as The New York Post, The Daily News, The Village Voice, The Jewish Press, and others. His articles have ranged from humor to scientific to topical events. Visit his site: shopndrop.com