I’ve been thinking lately about computers I have worked with. I don’t usually have much of a relationship with machines. The cars I drive are only practical necessities, something to move me farther and faster than my feet can manage on their own. I have strong opinions about stoves, hate the electric ones, love the instant-on/instant-off of a gas flame. And I find a stick blender indispensible, the kind I can plop into a pot of soup to turn it instantly smooth and creamy. (Can you tell I’m fond of cooking?)
But computers . . . ah, computers. Nothing in my life can bring me to tears faster and nothing—no other machine anyway—gives so much satisfaction.
I used to have a computer on which my writing appeared as green phosphorescent letters on a black background. The screen was rather snazzy, I thought, but there was one problem. When I went to bed at night and turned out the light, my first thoughts appeared in front of my eyes as green phosphorescent letters on a black background.
I didn’t tell anybody about this phenomenon. It felt a bit too weird to bring up in ordinary conversation. But then one day I was with a group of writers and one fellow said, “You know, I’ve got this strange thing going on. When I go to bed at night my first thoughts pop up in front of me as green phosphorescent letters on a black background.”
Halleluia! I thought. I’m not nuts!
But then came a night when my nighttime thoughts scrolling so greenly in front of my eyes caught my attention in a different way. About half a dozen words in, I spotted a typo, and I found myself, instantly and instinctively, reaching under the covers for the delete key.
“This,” I said to myself when I realized what I was doing, “is ridiculous!”
And the green phosphorescent thoughts never returned again. My mind took control of my brain.
I wonder, though, how does this lighted black and white page on a blue background that I now look at all day long impact my brain? I know that the greater speed a computer allows sets me up for all kinds of repetitive stress injuries. To keep them under control I have an ergonomic chair that supports my arms over an ergonomic keyboard set on an adjustable tray, a trackball designed for my left hand (because my right wrist is the more vulnerable one), and I use regular exercise and yoga and an excellent massage therapist to keep my body pretending it’s meant to sit poking at these keys all day long. But what is happening inside my skull?
I heard a scientist say once that our children’s thumbs are already evolving in response to their hand-held texting and gaming. Are our brains evolving, too? Or are they being turned to mush? I’ve never been convinced that green phosphorescent thoughts are a good thing.
I have always known, however, that if all the keyboards were to disappear off the face of the earth, my career would be over. I didn’t begin writing except in my head until I learned to type, and beyond grocery lists I still write almost nothing by hand. I once had a teenage foster daughter who said to me, “Mom, it’s a good thing I’m a good kid or they’d never accept these typed absence excuses at school.”
But I’ve grown to be dependent on more than the keyboard. I can no longer even imagine writing without the being able to insert and erase and flow back and forth through the pages hundreds and hundreds of times without leaving a trace of my process behind.
What I haven’t grown dependent upon, and never will, are the occasional moments when a computer defeats me. About an hour ago, my Word program hiccuped and a piece of writing I finished working on yesterday vanished completely.
What was that I just said about computers bringing me to tears?
It must be time to take the dog for a walk!