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“The Illiterati”

 

 THE ILLITERATI

by Ruth Minshull

            I’ve owned and operated computers for over 30 years now.  My friend, Rick,  and I bought a Radio Shack unit together in 1978.  This was well before Windows existed.  There was no mouse.  We simply used the old DOS system.

            At first I had difficulty accepting the literalness of the computer.  I would try a maneuver that seemed quite logical, and get hopelessly snarled up because the computer just didn’t “get it.”  When I complained to Rick, he’d laugh and remind me that I wouldn’t get anywhere by saying, “You know what I mean,” to a computer.

            He explained, “It can store an incredible amount of data; it can retrieve information with unbelievable speed; it can make lightening-quick calculations.  But it won’t catch a subtle nuance, recognize an innuendo, pick up on a double entendre or laugh at your jokes.” 

I almost gave up right there when I found that it would never laugh at my jokes.

Rick then summed up the whole concept by saying, “Basically, the computer is an idiot savant.” 

That clarified the matter for me.  I won’t say I never had trouble with the thing again, but I did stop expecting it to understand me.

I believe the phrase “idiot savant” is no longer politically correct; it’s been sanitized, and is now simply “savant”.  But I hope we can still use it to describe an inanimate object.  I call my machine an “idiot” or bad-mouth it in some other way several times a day.  So far I haven’t been dragged off in handcuffs by the PC police. 

So far.

            Alvin Toffler once said:  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

            What foresight the man had!  Nowhere is it truer than in wrestling with a computer.  As soon as you start feeling confident in using the thing, you have to unlearn and relearn a new system or program.  Since I work part time now as a Web site analyst, I need to keep a current operating system.  At first I resisted the new changes because it meant I would have to keep unlearning and relearning various procedures.  Eventually, I accepted the inconvenience.  Now I find the process challenging (often frustrating too, of course) and I think it may help keep my mind from ossifying.

            I am frequently amused, however, by my contemporaries who are still not online or, more amazing, still without computers.  Furthermore, they are very creative in their explanations for this eschewal.

            One retired man told me, “Oh, I always left the computer stuff to other people.”  He waved a hand dismissively, suggesting that such matters were way beneath his lofty executive self.

            Another oldster said, “Oh I wouldn’t get on that Internet.  Isn’t there a lot of porn there?”

            A friend asserted:  “I don’t want to get started on the Internet.  I’ve heard that some people get addicted to it.” 

            Another friend summed up his philosophy:  “I’ve never missed having a computer.”

I accept their rationalizations with a nod, but I think I’ve figured out the problem—the reason no one really wants to give:  they don’t want to unlearn and relearn. 

So far I haven’t found a single person who is willing to admit that.

I guess they’d rather look uncool than unsmart.

            Younger people have an easier time with computers.  They can walk into any room, anywhere, and immediately operate all computers, TVs, VCRs, CD and DVD players, remotes, cell phones, hand-held thingamajigs and most everything digital.  They don’t have to unlearn and relearn.

            Eventually they will, though, as today’s gismos are replaced by the next generation of doodads.  Eventually they, too, will have to unlearn and relearn—or join the 21st century illiterati.

 

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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull

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