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Feeling (newly) groovy

Richard Barr suggests taking a 1970s attitude to the stresses of dealing with modern-day technology

6 September 2017

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I stared despairingly at the darkened screen on my computer. In the corner a little symbol was blinking feebly.

I have come some way since I bought my first computer. It was a 1970s Sinclair ZX81, was about the same size as a packet of supermarket sausages, and was not much more effective.

Nonetheless it was a computer and you could perform simple functions on it. I even gave an early demonstration of my inner nerd by writing a programme: I persuaded it to print out repeatedly and indefinitely the name of the then Lord Chancellor. It might still be doing so nearly 40 years later if I had not unplugged it, put it in a carrier bag, and shoved it into the attic where it languishes to this day waiting to become valuable enough for me to sell on eBay.

In the years between I had a few skirmishes with IT as computers (and, slowly, I) became more sophisticated.

Once, working from the branch office, I set the new accounts computer printing out every single ledger for all clients of the firm.

Then there was the time, some years later, when, frustrated at my frozen Amstrad computer, I decided to format its hard drive. It seemed a good idea, though I little realised that I was destroying all the data.

Time passed. I learned to stop ambushing the accounts computer and refrained from formatting any more hard drives. Computers insinuated themselves into all our lives and we became so dependent on them that if they stopped working for even a fraction of a minute we became angry, paranoid, bereft, and dog kickers.

My relationship with computers, if not always harmonious, was at least one of mutual tolerance – until July 2017. I had been getting messages for weeks: “You must update. You really must update. Your computer will melt if you do not update. Hackers will steal your wife if you do not update.”

Eventually I relented. One Sunday evening I pressed the upgrade button. Four hours later the computer was still gasping for breath and showing no signs of emerging from the deep coma into which it had plunged. I scoured the internet, attempted to reload the operating system again, and despairingly went to bed at 3am not knowing whether I would come down in the morning to find a computer or a small pile of ash.

Monday was a work day and I work from home. My life is on my computer. Without my computer I am an empty husk. Hoping that it might mysteriously have revived overnight I pressed the on button. Back came the little symbol. Nothing else.

I called the manufacturer’s helpline. The voice at the end of the line assured me that he would get my computer going again. But I would need to reinstall the update.

I followed his instructions and for a while watched the little symbol flashing when suddenly it dawned on me: a message was being delivered by the manufacturers.

They wanted me to follow the advice of Simon and Garfunkel: “Slow down, you move too fast/ You got to make the morning last/ Just kicking down the cobble stones/ Looking for fun and feeling groovy.”

I have not felt groovy for several decades, partly because no one uses the word now. But even if there are still people stuck in the seventies, there is not much to feel groovy about. Computers do not relax you. When they are working well you just accept it. When they fail to work as expected your blood pressure skyrockets, the wrong kind of cholesterol shoots up, and you develop a tic in your left eye.

But if the computer is not working at all, then why not go out and kick a few cobble stones? I could not work, so I made the morning last. I not only bought a paper but read it in the garden over a cup of coffee.

By lunchtime the computer had woken up but it still had a bad headache and more needed to be done to make it function well. That took most of the rest of the day and I made the afternoon last too.

The computer has made a partial recovery, but the new operating system has injected a form of artificial intelligence into it. Now it has moods. In the morning it will shut down if I am not nice to it. It will only print when it wants to, not when I tell it to – and then only some of the pages I have selected.

Do I get angry? No – with a newly rediscovered feeling of grooviness, I leave it alone if it is sulking and

look for fun. Thank you, Mr Computer Manufacturer. This is an important innovation and a welcome step in releasing us from the stress of owning computers. I have half a mind to crank up my ZX81 to get it to print out the words ‘feeling groovy’ a million times – because sure as hell my present computer won’t.

Richard Barr is a consultant with Scott-Moncrieff & Associates

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