Has anyone ever conducted a study on The Amount of Time Computers Save Us vs. The Amount of Time Computers Waste Us as We Try to Get Them to Do the Things They Purport to Do, But Which they Steadfastly Refuse to Do? I suppose a time efficiency analyst could calculate the time gain or loss down to nano-seconds, but today I will consider the topic from an ethnographic perspective, including anecdotal evidence, to prove the thesis that Computers Waste Time & Test Patience.
Last night I read Clare Dudman’s blog, Keeper of the Snails. She had a terrible day yesterday: her computer discarded half of the words she had written over the past five days. Well, even Clare admits she should have saved her work more frequently, but that does not detract from the overall argument I am proposing. It is only because the computer renders the written word so intangible that they are able to be lost in the first place. Only a cyclonic gust of wind achieves the same effect with words typed or written on paper. And you can at least attempt to save your words in that scenario by chasing after them, with the added benefit that onlookers will be entertained at your slapstick antics. When words are lost on a computer nobody is amused.
Today I arrived at the University at 10am. (A time, I think, that achieves just the right balance between rush hour traffic avoidance and healthy scholarly commitment.) I read an article about the crisis of television studies, cultural studies, the humanities etc and then I thought it was time to solve the problem of not being able to play DVDs on my laptop that has a DVD-ROM drive. I want to maintain a strict separation between home and my research so it’s necessary for me to enable the DVD facility for use at the University because I’ll be watching and analysing television programmes. Why I have to enable it, I have no idea, shouldn’t it just work? Computer says no. Apparently there’s some problem the DVD software is having getting access to the soundcard. Computer says it could be a problem with the DirectX driver that, as far as I understand, mediates between the two. So I downloaded the DirectX from Microsoft. Easy?! Computer says no. After I restarted the computer and the DVD software, I put a DVD in the disk drive. It offered to update the DVD software to the latest version. ‘Alright’, I thought, ‘why not?’ I downloaded the DVD software and restarted the computer, then placed a DVD in the disk drive. Ready, set—computer says no. The audio problem still exists. I go through the trouble shooting steps and ascertain that the soundcard is properly installed and working just fine, which I already suspected since the computer regularly chirps and pings at me to indicate that I’ve breached its strict code of conduct. The trouble shooting process suggests another possibility: I could need to update the driver for the soundcard. Sigh. I am tearing through my download quota. Oh well, it must be done. Computer says no. I’ve found a link on the manufacturer’s site to the download, but now the University is sending me an error message saying it doesn’t recognise my login and password details on the Postgraduate Network. Sigh.
It’s now 1 o’clock. I’ve planned to go to the regular Friday Seminar Series in the School. Graeme Turner is giving a paper: Representations of Muslim-Australians in the Australian Media. He shows us an excerpt from Today Tonight which he analyses and uses to support his argument about “the provisionalisation of citizenship: where the status of Muslim-Australians who are legal citizens of this country is discursively qualified by proposed links between people of their ethnicity, the so-called war on terror, and illegal immigration”. Of course there were computer problems at the beginning—the network wouldn’t allow a Professor at the University to sign on from that particular computer—which fortunately didn’t delay the beginning of the presentation by much, thanks to the presence of others who could sign on. Then there were problems with playing the DVD. Thankfully the technical person turned up as if on cue when the Today Tonight segment was due to be played. Still, it's more incontrovertible evidence that Computers Waste Time & Test Patience.
Back in my office. I call up IT Support and find out the site I’m trying to download from has a URL beginning with ftp, which apparently the University won’t let me access, along with the Australian Taxation Office and other high security sites. For all the spam they let through to my student email, I wonder why they’re worried about the ATO and HP/Compaq; you’d think the University would have figured out that some sites are highly unlikely to contain malicious downloads. At this point, I’m very close to throwing a tantrum. The IT Support person suggests I download the driver from a non-university computer, save it to a disk and load the software that way. I call my sister on the off-chance she is home. Her fiancé is, so he offers to download the software and send it to me via email. Two hours ago he said it was successfully downloaded and that he had sent it in an attachment to my Yahoo! email account. I keep checking the Inbox, but computer says no.
Quod Est Demonstradum: Computers Waste Time & Test Patience