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A primer on Modern Geek Mythology.

Byline: Sid McKeen


Consider these scenarios:

1. It's 1910 and you're living in a little farm town in Maine. Every day, you harness your horse and set out by wagon to pick up supplies in town. On your way, you see a train speed past and you wish you could get around so fast.

2. It's 1960 and you're a pupil in the third grade. One morning the teacher tells you to go see the principal. The principal informs you that, effective immediately, you are being promoted to the senior class in high school.

3. It's 2010 and your pitiful old laptop, like the broken-down nag in Scenario 1, has slowed to a creep and takes half the morning just to check your e-mail. You're forced to buy a new one, with all the bells and whistles.

That's where I am at this very moment; at No. 3. What you are reading is my first feeble attempt to communicate something with it. I feel like old Mr. Slowsky the Turtle suddenly turned into Neil Armstrong.

What's different? Everything.

The first thing I did was contact a pro. We'll call him Dick because that's his name. All I did was open the box the computer came in. Dick took it from there, sitting at my desk while I pretended to co-pilot beside him.

Using a little doohickey the size of a ticket stub, my mentor proceeded to extract the files from my old laptop and flip them into the new one. It took only a matter of seconds to give the newspaper columns I had taken years to grind out their new home. "You'll find that with one of these new computers you'll be spending a lot of your time the first few days dealing with updates," Dick told me. Was he ever right. When I shut the thing down at the end of Day 1, I was cautioned by the little people inside the machine not to unplug it because it needed to start sending updates. I did as ordered. When I opened up next morning, the screen informed me that it had just slipped more than 19,000 updates into my laptop. Don't hold me to the precise number; I was too stunned to write it down.

"How does that work?" I asked him. "It seems a little like buying a brand new Jaguar XJ and being told that the car is already out of date and will have to undergo a few thousand modifications before you even get behind the wheel." I don't recall his reply, but his shrug told its own story. In the world of computing, if you haven't kept up for the last 15 minutes, you're seriously out of date, and it's been a dozen long years for me since Windows 98.

I can't stifle a notion I've always had about the geniuses and geeks who make and program computers. It's my distinct impression that they outfit them with every quirky and esoteric device they can dream up, then turn them all loose on us lesser mortals whether we want them or not. If I had to guess, I'd estimate that I probably manage to use only about half of 1 percent of the many tricks they can do. It's my own fault, I know, but they don't sell computers for the technically illiterate, so I still have to shell out for the cost of the other 99.5 percent I'm too dumb to use.

It's taken me about twice the usual amount of time to get this done, but if you're actually reading this, it means I must have succeeded.

There's nothing like life in the fast lane. Thank you, Hewlett-Packard. Thank you, Best Buy. Thank you, Dick. I just pray to Bill Gates I'll be able to move on to the fourth grade with all the big kids by the end of the school year.

Reach Sid McKeen at
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 7, 2010
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