by Janis Patterson
I have been forced to cave. Again. You all know that I am not only a techno-naif, but a techno-phobe. I wrote my first books on a 1939 Smith-Corona portable typewriter. It was manual made completely of metal and came in a case made of ¼ inch plywood. The whole thing was heavy enough to make a dandy anchor and the only reason it was called it a portable was because it was smaller and lighter and easier to move than the elephantine office models. By the way, I still own it and always will. It was my father’s in his youth, and he gave it to me the summer before I entered the fourth grade. I treasure it.
As dependable as the old portable is, however, computers are so much easier. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. Don’t get me started on the continuous “upgrades” and “improvements” that have been made. (Said in full sarcasm mode.) I don’t see why – when my work method (putting one word after another and then saving the whole) has not changed appreciably since the days of the old SC manual – every few years I should be forced to lay out a lot of money and then spend time learning a lot of things I don’t need to know simply because Gates et al want to force everyone in to giving them a few more millions. If the techies want all those new frills and fol-de-rals, fine; let them have them, but they shouldn't pull support from other systems preferred by many. To do so is nothing but greed in its purest and most hateful form. In my opinion Word 2003 was the optimal word processing system. All the commands were on one row and of a size that one could see without squinting, the design was crisp and no-nonsense and easy to use, so naturally it could not be allowed to stay.
Of course I realize I am the oddest creature, and probably a thorn (I hope!) in the side of computer designers. Just because I pay for something and I am the one to use it, I feel I should have it set up the way I want. I should not be constantly subjected to the whims of some tech-crazy designer who changes and “improves” (sarcasm mode back on in full spate) something just because he can – and can not only charge for it, but force us to accept and pay for it.
I’ve written about how my beloved 15 year old Dell finally had to be replaced – it was on the now-unsupported XP operating system, which was made unsafe to use on the ‘net. As a lot of my work is done on the ‘net, I couldn’t put my work computer at risk, so I found (at a price I could actually afford!) an almost new 17” Gateway through the good offices of a friend. It was a love/hate relationship from the beginning, with the emphasis on ‘hate’. It had Windows 7 and Word 2010, both systems that have complicated things to a ridiculous degree. What took two clicks to accomplish in 03 now take seven or eight. The designs are fussy, the procedures arcane, the negotiations around ‘networking’ ridiculous. ‘Networking’? What part of “personal” computer don’t they understand? Still I was glad not to have to deal with the much-maligned Windows 8, which I understood to be hideously complicated and more like a cell phone than a computer. I prayed never to have anything to do with such an unnecessary design.
Until we went to Egypt two months ago. As this was a working trip, I bit the bullet and took along my computer. My 17” laptop computer. I had a smaller ‘purse’ computer, but it was 5 years old, had no virus protection and was starting to act wonky. Besides, I didn’t know what off my computer I would need. (Turned out to be nothing, but that’s with my 20/20 hindsight.) The purse computer weighed just a little over a pound less than the big one, too, and I thought I could manage everything quite easily.
I did manage everything… but not easily. Despite the best and very physical efforts of Lufthansa airlines to force me to put my computer and cameras in the luggage compartment for the flight from Hell I never let them out of my hands, and that did terrible things to my shoulder and already problematic back, causing problems that persist to this day. (They are getting better, though – just not fast enough for me!)
So, when I saw a tablet on sale that I could afford, I caved and bought it. It’s an ASUS, comes with its own keyboard which makes a case when closed and the screen part can be removed to make a traditional tablet. It also comes with Windows 8.1 – which is just as ugly and uselessly trendy as I had feared – and I’m terrified of it. I spent most of yesterday with my sainted software man at our local computer store as he set it up in the way I prefer and drilled the basics of use into me.
The little tablet with keyboard weighs less than two pounds, and will fit into most of my purses, to say nothing of my traveling ‘office’ backpack. For that alone I will love it. I still fear what will happen when it is deliberately made obsolete and once again I and everyone else will have to pay for “new and improved” technology we neither need nor want.