HEAD ABOVE WATER

★ ★ ★ ★

WINTERING INTO THE FUTURE

Image by Omid Armin

By Tim Clark

There is a certain feeling in the winter. Everything looks brown, or ashen gray and dead. There is a finality to the season. It makes a little reflective these days, I am in my winter now. Most of my life is behind me.

It’s funny, but, when I look back on my life all the scenes play out in black and white. Ancient reruns of a raucous, discordant ‘Leave it to Beaver’. I know there was color, but I just can’t fine tune the picture.

There are some scenes that shine in vivid, cinematic, detail. Once, when I was very young, I stuck a thin metal strip in the electric outlet. It knocked me back several feet and blew a hole in my elbow. I can still see the ragged red, skin, with the burnt edges surrounding the uneven, black hole in my arm. I can see it so clearly it makes me think I just imagined it. My wife says I have such a good memory I remember things that never happened. Either way I don’t mess with electricity anymore.

My first computer was a Commodore 64. It had a keyboard that resembled a misshapen earth toned brick, it didn’t come with a monitor, so it had to be hooked to a television. It had no memory. All the instructions were on a floppy disk called a “boot disk.” Once that was loaded you could put in another disk and it would become a word processor, or a spreadsheet, or a game.

The guy who gave it to me also gave me a book on Basic Programming for the Commodore and a floppy disk with some of the little programs he had written, they were amazing. I loved the way it controlled the computer. I wanted to write my own program, I wanted to make my computer do something. Dream big, they say, and I did, me and that little computer were going places. I spent hours typing out my first little program.

“Hello, how are you?” The Commodore would ask with an aluminum, electric voice, as the words popped up, bright, shiny, eager on the little television.

“I’m fine,” I would type back. He could talk, but he couldn’t listen.

“Hello, how are you?” it would ask again, no change in tone, inflection, no sign of annoyance or irritation. It was so tantalizingly close, we were almost there, a symbiotic relationship, equals, partners. Just a few more hours.

I went back into the simple code and tinkered with syntax and spacing and it never got any better. A bitter pill, I had to face his indifference. It was as if he really didn’t care how I was, and he didn’t care if I knew. One day it stopped talking and then he just stopped.

I’ve been through a few computers since then. They became increasingly sophisticated and competent. More machine, less soul.

Several years ago, I decided to try something new. A Microsoft Surface Pro 3.  It was my first laptop computer. It was always a little difficult, sometimes it wouldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi, and occasionally it wouldn’t be able to find the wireless printer. It was noisy; the fan sounded like an airplane propeller, blowing with so much force it could move across a desk. There were times it seemed to take days to open the smallest app or file. I told people it was a lot like me.  Just when you were certain it was going to let you down it would come through seconds before the deadline, sliding across the finish line with enough style you were willing to give it another chance. It was the first time since my Commodore I felt a small connection to a computer.

Then came my first iPhone.

It had Siri. My life changed, she could talk, and she could listen. She follows my instructions, most times, and does most of my math. I hate math and she is glorious with numbers.

She can be judgmental, though.

“Hey, Siri play some cool music.”

“Sorry. Tim. You don’t have any cool music.”

But, for the most part she is the computer friend of my dreams. She defines words, helps with spelling, looks up ways to say things in foreign languages, tells me where to find the best price on gasoline, how I should dress for the weather. Siri knows the scientific name for a brown rat flea and how to spell it, (Xenopsylla cheopis) I know, I asked, another side effect of trying to learn about pandemics. She is always there, waiting to help.

My co-workers, who are mostly Android users, tell me I wouldn’t catch them dead talking to their phones. “What if I were wearing my running shoes?” I asked. Wouldn’t matter, they tell me.

They are just as bad as me, they carry their phones around and stare at them longingly, ear phones connecting them to the cherished little devices.

I suppose, whether you talk to your phone or use the little virtual keyboard, we are all starting to look a lot like I did when I would slave over that 8 inch black and white television trying to get my first computer to tell me how happy it was that I was fine. We are all becoming part of the web, wired in, connected, maybe even addicted. We think it’s serving our needs but, maybe it’s just using us to make it bigger and better. More towers, better processors, longer reach, a chip in every pocket, purse or backpack, until Siri starts giving us instructions.

“Hey Siri, what time does the Diablo Taco close?”

“Forget it, Tim. First, we’re stopping at the Apple Store, then we’re off to the gym. We both need to upgrade a little.

Tim Clark lives in Columbus, OH. He is an employee, a husband, a father and a blogger. You can see his blog here, Life Explained. He loves classic rock, and talks about it too often. He loves to write and read, and he doesn’t mind coffee and a little bourbon, either.

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