Friday, July 01, 2005

Living in the land of errors

A piano teacher I know once summarized what it was like taking piano lessons as a child: "It was like I was living in the land of mistakes." Because I too take piano lessons - but as an adult - I easily can resonate with that perfect lack of anything even close to perfection in my playing.

I'd like to offer up a variation on that phrase - one that applies to computering. It is like I am living in the land of errors.

Do you ever go one day without something - big or small - going wrong with your computer? I surely don't. Since I've been installing and working with several new programs this summer, my family will quickly attest to the fact that a string of obscenities can be heard around the computer workstation at least once a day.

Sometimes the error is simply a failure to communicate between me and the machine. For example, prior to OSX, I easily could select all the files in a folder and move them to another location. Just yesterday I once again was trying to figure out how to do this in Tiger. The Help Center gave me no insights, so I experimented on my own. I tried every variation of selecting, dragging, and dropping that I could think of, but nothing was working. Several times I ended up opening 150 files rather than moving them. Once my mouse aim slipped and I accidentally opened up all the files and applications on my desktop. Did you ever sit there and watch your computer struggling to open up many dozens of files and apps in rapid fire succession? Of course, command-period didn't cancel the struggle, like it would in the pre-OSX days. So I just sat there and watched helplessly until the fireworks ended.

Sometimes, I believe, the responsibility for the error rests squarely on the shoulders of the machine. Now I don't want to sound like I'm picking on Tiger - because when all things are considered I truly love it - but I installed it about two weeks ago with some considerable trepidation. As I mentioned in my previous post on "mysticism," the OS can be a Pandora's box. At first, after the smooth installation, everything seemed A-OK - until I try to shut down at the end of the day. About half the time the OS crashes. It's one of those hard crashes where the only way to escape is to press and hold the power button. On the positive side, the G5 is at least courteous enough to tell me that I have to press it, and, upon restarting, that the "OS unexpectedly quit"...... No, really?!.....

I'm sure you have similar stories. I assume that every day you too are running into all sorts of errors with the machine. Things that don't work. Things you might be doing wrong. Things the computer is doing wrong.

So what is the psychology of living in the land of errors? I guess we might react in several ways:

- To avoid more errors, we don't try something new

- We devote some time to trying to solve the problem, then give up if we can't

- We call tech support and hope that the call won't last hours, they know what they are doing, they don't talk to us like we're children, and their fix works

- We work around the problem, perhaps in a way that's less efficient, maybe even forgetting that there was a problem (a kind of denial)

- We get annoyed with and blame the computer, like it's some kind of stupid person or unruly child

- We get annoyed with and blame ourselves, perhaps thinking that we are inadequate to the challenge

- We refuse to accept errors and compulsively try to make our machine "perfect," perhaps driving ourselves crazy in the process

Some of us might indeed expect or hope that our machines will be flawless, that because we have control over it we can create a place where everything is just right. But as we all know, nothing is perfect. Perhaps our computer companions are doing us a favor by reminding us that we always will be living in a land of errors.


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