Saturday, March 19, 2011

Operating on the edge

"Cutting-edge technology often works flawlessly. People are amazed...."

About a month ago, my computer had another meltdown, the third in two years. My husband's business partner, who helps with our computer issues, installed a new mumbojumbo board, or maybe it was a makemecrazy drive. Then he restored programs and data from my backup disks. It would be nice if that were the end of the (non-)story.

But it always takes more than that to get things operating again. Invariably, one or two programs no longer work and I have to upgrade or replace them. My photo database refuses to reconstitute itself without hours of manipulation. And this time, Photoshop has to be replaced. I've researched the less expensive Photoshop Elements, but I can't get the free trial version to run. As a result, I haven't been able to do much with my photos (including making a new header) for weeks now, and that's making me cranky.

As computer problems go, this one hardly counts. But it's a reminder of how these powerful, indispensable, magical gadgets complicate our lives.

A few weeks ago, I came across my ancient electric typewriter in the basement. When I bought it, I thought it was so slick. Little did I know that it was the first step toward dependency, like a gateway drug to the addicting world of instant look-ups, dazzling graphics, easy online shopping, and the crack cocaine of blogging.

It's not that I mind being hooked; I love the ways that computers enrich our lives. What I hate is being dependent on something I don't fully understand, can't control, can't fix on my own.

That, of course, is the frightening thing about life on this planet. Even in the best of times, control is an illusion. Under the spell of that illusion and in the name of progress, we humans have complicated our lives with systems and gadgets that are far too ambitious in their attempts to control and outsmart nature. We genetically modify crops. We divert rivers, drain wetlands, and build in the flood plain. We engineer oil rigs that are supposed to work just fine in deep water, and nuclear power plants sure to withstand local weather events. What could possibly go wrong? Well, other than miscalculations, carelessness, greed, bigger-than-expected natural disasters, and unintended consequences?

As individuals, we can shop at the farmers' market, try to reduce our carbon footprint, even try to talk sense into our policymakers. But there's always that risk, that something will go horribly wrong and there won't be an easy fix. There is more at stake than whether we can use some whiz-bang programs to keep ourselves informed and facilitate creative expression. No wonder we're nervous, or more than a little cranky.

"...At first, everyone worries about risk. Then people get lulled into complacency by success and they forget that they are operating on the edge, experts who study disasters say. Corners get cut, problems ignored. Then boom."  

 --from Technology’s disasters share long trail of hubris, by Seth Borenstein, on 


Indigo Roth said...

Hey Nancy, it's true. Considering the success rate of the average toaster, it's a wonder anyone ever takes an elevator. Indigo

Corinna said...

Chaos is the rule. Not sure why we worship control and complacency. Made me think. Thank you.

DJan said...

I wonder if all this out of control feeling I've had lately is related to what's happening in the world. I found that picnik (a free graphics program) fills in for what I can't do with iPhoto (like put text on a picture and resize it). I used Photoshop when it was paid for by my employer, but now... I wouldn't even consider buying it!

Thoughtful post. I always enjoy coming over here.

Ally said...

Ohhh. I have so much to say about this. You are so right about how our innovation is moving much faster than our ability to protect ourselves from the dangers that the innovations can bring. Being reliant on computers is really just the beginning. But I think about how I own a business and 10 years ago, my business would have never been possible...or there would have been loans, rent, stress. Now, I just log on, post my items and if something sells, I ship it. It has made a dream come true with minimal cost or effort. At the same time, if my computer or Internet goes down, I am SCREWED.

And look at all of the bloggers who have turned their writing into a career...selling books that were based on their blogs. I don't have any delusions that it will happen to me...I write for the sake of writing...but it COULD happen. That could not have happened before computers.

At the same time, I long for a simpler time. I drive my Prius to the Farmer's Market to buy fruits and vegetables that were brought in that morning, not shipped from Chile or Mexico. I give them my money for their produce. It's easy and direct. And it's better for my health. Because with all the advances in cancer care, wouldn't it be great to not need them because I wasn't eating anything soaked in chemical to begin with?

You know I could have a HUGE discussion on this. I'm practicing a lot of restraint by stopping now. ;)

Jeanie said...

I think you have very well articulated something we are all feeling a bit of right now....a feeling of helplessness regarding so many things we don't understand.

Darlene said...

One thing I know for sure is that I will never understand the workings of my computer. The other thing is, anytime we think we have control over something, it is only an illusion.

Teresa Evangeline said...

Wow, Nancy. This is a great post. You've spoken so well about issues that are affecting us all. I have a love/hate relationship with my computer, found all sorts of new reasons for using the F word, but it's become a huge part of my life and made writing such a joy. I was never into the yellow pad and box of pencils.

I saw a typewriter for sale at an antique store yesterday!

Just another crack cocaine addict, :)

Linda Medrano said...

I am very anti-tech. I don't even have a microwave. I love the internet and I hate it too. Technology scares me. My husband is the total opposite. If it's tech, he's got to have it. GPS to go to the corner grocery store? Cell phones, ipads, ipods, remotes for everything, I hate it all! At least these things are silly and don't carry unacceptable risks. Too bad it's all not this simple.

Far Side of Fifty said...

You said it "control is an illusion" sometimes I think that we are better off just hiding our heads in the snowbank. I think it is a frustration that many of us share..computers and their problems, not to mention the worlds problems:(

Deb Shucka said...

This is such a thoughtful post. Lots to think about here. Control of any kind is an illusion, and it feels like the faster things are, the more we feel the need for control. Sort of a Catch 22. I wonder often what's going to happen when all our technology isn't available. said...

Our internet connection went down at work the other day and it took me about ten minutes to figure out what else I could do off-line... dang, I'm so dependent!

Linda Myers said...

I'm sitting with my laptop on the dining room table as my Mac support person fixes my iMac. A corrupt preference has set my plans for the day back by a couple of hours and a hundred bucks. How can I send blood pressure readings to my doc if the spreadsheet is only on the iMac?

Still. Where would I be without my blogging or my Facebook community?

Guess it's about tradeoffs.

injaynesworld said...

Remember when the movie 2001 came out and "Hal" the computer seemed so far-fetched? HA!

Very thoughtful post. Especially about creating technology that alters our world and then finding we can't control it.

I'm glad I've lived to see so much of the good side and I just hope I get off the planet before the bad side buries us all.

Anonymous said...

No questions: technology makes me both happy and cranky. It's a confounding yin and yang. It also suck up my time, and but in other ways makes it more productive. There is no easy one on this one!

gayle said...

I know so little about tech stuff! Not sure what I would do without my husband! He fixes almost everything for us!


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