Computing the future of computers

By Marla Boone - Contributing Columnist

Dave Barry is a funny guy. Besides his Pulitzer Prize-winning offerings in the world of humor, he has done more than any other single human being to legitimize, in popular print, the word “booger.”

Because I am willing to absorb useful knowledge from any source, I picked up Dave’s book titled “Dave Barry in Cyberspace.” Dave was explaining how much he loves his computer, even if the feeling wasn’t always entirely reciprocated. He didn’t pretend to understand it, of course. Not even Bill Gates really understands the computer. Bill just played a couple of lucky hunches is all.

But as I made my way through Dave’s book two things became increasingly obvious. The first thing was this was an old book. A really old book. The second glaringly (some might say tragically) obvious thing was many of Mr. Barry’s laments are still valid today.

Working on the first issue, I turned the book to the front (yes, children, this was an honest-to-goodness hold-in-your-two-hands, paper-intensive book) and saw the copyright date was 1996. Even without the calculator app on a smart phone, I could figure out this book is twenty years old. One of the few things I know for sure about computers is that in their world, twenty years is approximately five lifetimes. Or maybe a hundred. So you can imagine what sort of two decades-old wonders Dave Barry envisioned for us and our electronic masters.

He thought that in the future, you would be able to get on the Internet without being physically hooked to a phone line. He also thought that on some blessed upcoming day he would not be charged by the minute for his time spent online. He thought maybe — just maybe and this was almost too outrageous for him to mention — people would be able to talk to their computers and their computers would answer them. He indicated he considered this last item to be fairly far-fetched.

Frankly, I consider this last item to be fairly far-fetched, too. How can the computer listen to me, process what I say, and propose a thoughtful response? I have a real live human husband and I can’t get him to do this. In his defense, he has agreed to let me reboot him once all these bowl games are over.

So while many of Dave’s predictions/concerns/advice have become true/not-so-true/really off the wall, I am in complete sympathy with several of his complaints from 1996. Specifically, these include, in no particular order:

How to buy and set up a computer. Dave’s twenty year old advice logically begins with Step One. Step One is get a Valium. The only way I could improve upon this advice is to recommend you get either two Valium or the services of a reasonably bright seventh grader. On second thought, you are going to need tranquilized with either solution, so when you order your computer, have Apple/Dell/Toshiba throw in a dart gun, too.

Technical Support Hotline. As we say in computer lingo, LOL. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but shouldn’t this feature be renamed the Technical Let-You-Down Slow-Line? If you get my drift.

Software. I myself have attempted to install software. Not being a fan of dictatorships, I find it particularly offensive when my computer will not negotiate. “Click OK to continue.” Well. Just try NOT clicking OK and see what happens. What happens is that you are now in a computer-generated vicious cycle which is to say the worst conceivable vicious cycle in the known universe and all future universes yet to be discovered. You either click OK or go back to scratching in the dirt with a sharp stick.

And while that sharp stick is handy, let us discuss the trauma of booking airline tickets online. Now I am not for a minute suggesting you threaten anyone even remotely connected with air travel. The TSA takes a very dim view of this. Of course, everyone trying to buy a ticket online takes a very dim view of being charged extra for any seat not directly next to or actually on top of the toilet. Plus, the fact that the price you pay for your ticket will lower within nanoseconds of your clicking on “Confirm.” It’s all a mystery how this happens.

As previously noted by myself and Mr. Barry and anyone else who has been on a commercial flight lately, the airline industry computer system must already be swamped running the program that ensures there is a boisterous passenger, a crying baby, a broken toilet, and a very disgruntled flight attendant on every airplane in the fleet. Also, that they run out of Diet Coke two rows before the beverage cart gets to you.

Believe me, the irony of writing this article on a computer and then sending it to the editor via email does not escape me. But, if I could get hold of those two valium, I could ignore it.

By Marla Boone

Contributing Columnist

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Sidney Daily News, Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.

Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Sidney Daily News, Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.