Computer-Assisted Headaches

Yesterday, all of a sudden, MS Word wouldn’t start. Do you know what this means to someone who writes? It’s like your car won’t start when you’re going to an important meeting. Or running  out of gas at night on a country road. Your word processor is your life.

I got it fixed because I know the vagaries and twitches of my old computer, and it just required a restart. I have a ThinkPad which I still love though it’s now ten years old, long past the fail date for most laptops. Its twitches have become more frequent, though nothing major bad yet. These signs have not gone unnoticed.

A new ThinkPad is out of the question: too expensive. Other new laptops have a lot of features I don’t want or need—and too few ports for all the USB peripherals I run. The mess of wires and cables beneath my desk is the typical rat’s nest. So you have to plug all that stuff into a hub.

I have been fooling with computers since 1984-5 when I bought two British-made Apricots for my business. These were great machines for the time and, along with my accountant, they taught me how to use software like Lotus 1-2-3. After I got the hang of earlier word processors like WordPerfect, my writing habits were absolutely transformed.


As time has passed, computing has gotten much more complicated while the machines have gotten much better. As they now perform hundreds more functions faster and more powerfully, who can keep up (unless you’re a techie)? And who can master all the proliferating software? My old brain is not equipped for this.

Worse still is trying to deal with all the functions on a smartphone. I’ve had three or four of these over time, and each gets more fussy and complicated. They contain so much crap you don’t want, and some phones still come loaded with bloatware. They also hide the stuff you need to set or change in impenetrable sub-menus.

Doing regular things like cleaning the cache is like learning a new language. Making the phone behave as you want requires patience and perseverance. I have friends who just turn off their phones when they are idle. Y’all know what I’m talking about?

For most users, progress in the art of computing ought to mean getting things done that you need to do in the simplest, most effective way. Often it means spending inordinate amounts of time and frustration to fight your way through outdated instructions from Google, incompatible software, inscrutable tech talk, and incompetent support staff.

Like so much in contemporary life, our devices give us what someone else thinks we want in a frequently user-unfriendly form. Now we have AI to look forward to.

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