Thursday, October 06, 2011

Jobs in computing

There’s this guy. He thinks I’m a computer geek and I can’t change his mind about it. Normally you’d give up trying, you’d soon shrug but it did start to matter a little bit when he kept consulting me on anti-virus software he was thinking of buying.

“Have you read the back of the box?” I asked him. “Then you know more than I do.”

It seems he thought I was being nice and encouraging, that I was praising his expertise. I know that he actually doesn’t comprehend that I can have not the faintest idea about computer viruses. This is not a conceivable thing for him and he chuckles sometimes like he knows I’m trying to make a joke and he wants to be polite.

I used to work in computing, did I tell you that? Studied the things for a bit, managed to get out and onto computer magazines. I was always a magazine man more than a computer one, more of a drama nut than anything else. More into people than wires.

But you do learn a thing or two and it is surprising what still lurks in the back of my head so when he told me his several new computers were having trouble connecting to the internet and asked me to take a look, I did. How long could it take?

Five hours.

And I failed.

I don’t feel very awful about failing to get these PCs online because Dell didn’t manage it either. Some support expert from across the world dialled into the PCs and couldn’t fix them. (How? How can you dial in, connect remotely, but not have fixed the internet? Mysteries. Alchemy.)

What I most remember about that day, though, was sitting there in front of each PC in turn, entirely failing to get them to recognise that there is such a thing as wifi - while I looked up technical advice online through my MacBook. Plopped myself down by the PC, opened the MacBook, told it which wifi network I wanted, was online before I’d really finished opening the lid.

Those PCs never worked reliably with the internet, not over wifi.

And as time ticked by, this guy replaced them all.

Now, on the one hand, I’m still using my Mac from a couple of years before he bought these PCs, but I think the issue is not how fast PCs wear out but how this fella bought three more PCs of the same type.

I did mention Macs.

Quite a bit.

He argues, though, that Macs are expensive and they don’t do anything you can’t do with PCs.

His new PCs had the same problem.

I’m missing an episode now because at some point something did happen to get them online eventually. But the next time I am involved, it’s to set up a couple of laptops.

Two identical Windows laptops, bought from the same shop, bought in the same week.

One of them couldn’t play the sound off DVDs.

The speakers are fine, it could play anything else. But not DVDs.

I downloaded drivers, I changed settings, to be frank I was stabbing wildly at any option presented to me and nodding sagely whenever asked “Is it done yet?”. Eventually, I found a really clever workaround. I can’t remember what it was now, but I was actually proud of myself: I’d thought my way around and over a problem. Immensely satisfying.

For about a minute.

This is what computing is to this guy. A pain. A pain where two identical Windows computers don’t work the same and in fact don’t work.

He doesn’t think I’m a geek because I once studied computers, he thinks it because I spend all day at one and in the evening turn to another. Choosing to put yourself through that, to voluntarily keep going back to a computer, that equals geek.

The difference is that I use Macs. You know this already, you know this is where I’m going with all this. And you know why I’m saying it today. But actually, I want to argue that the difference is that I don’t use computers.

I don’t get up in the morning and think ooh, I can boot up my computer now. I don’t think I’ve got five minutes, I can spend more time at my computer.

Instead, what I’m doing is turning to the book I’m writing. I’m turning to the film I started watching on the train yesterday. I’m reading the news. I’m editing video, cutting audio, photo editing, laying out pages, I’m interviewing people, I’m transcribing audio, I’m listening to the radio, I’m watching TV. I’m doing a lot of work here in the UK and I’m doing some in the States, from that same Mac.

It all goes through my Mac, yes. But it also all goes through my MacBook, my iPad, my iPhone.

It goes through me.

I reach for the work and for the fun, I don’t reach for a computer to geek out over and I never have to.

I have had people ask me to recommend a phone and when I’ve said iPhone, they’ve tutted. Typical, they say. It would be Apple. Nobody needs that stuff and I bet they never use any of that fancy stuff, they can’t, they can’t understand it, it’s rubbish. You’re an Apple fanboy: it’s all style, you’re buying into the Apple hype when I’m being real, you’re a fashion victim and I know the truth that this ten quid Nokia phone and twenty quid PC are far, far better.

“So why’d you want me to recommend a new phone then?” I asked.

I know that I’m not won over by hype. Microsoft hypes a lot more but I don’t get interested in their stuff, probably because they’re better at the hype than at delivering the product. Microsoft hypes away about what they’re releasing next year. Apple hypes away about what they’re bringing out today.

But I did wonder about me when I found I was waiting to hear Apple’s news this week about the next iPhone. So, for pure curiosity, I kept an eye on how often I used my iPhone.

You know it’s going to be a big figure. I knew it would be. Several dozen times, easy.

It was 230.

Exactly 230 times in one normal day, including six phone calls but not including how ever often it was that I used to look at it to see the time.

Apple kit is woven into my life. Maybe it is in yours, maybe it isn’t, I’m not here to tell you anything but how I roll.

Apple is more than one man. But Steve Jobs made a dramatic difference in how I live and we have lost someone remarkable today.

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