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The Goods

In a Techno Tizzy

With upgrades of upgrades, zigabytes and imitation software, who can keep up? That chisel and stone tablet are looking a lot better to some folks.

May 21, 1996|ERIC BILLITZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At long last, I ventured into the computer store to buy a computer. I was greeted by Bob, my computer counselor and hacking stylist.

"The first big decision to make," said Bob, "is which huge monopoly do you hate the least? Do you want the Cranberry, which is hip and has the best commercials, or do you want the SXX, which can imitate the Cranberry after you load $1,000 worth of software into it?"

"I want the SXX," I told Bob. "It's more compatible with itself and upgradeable and it has a sexier name."

"Good choice," Bob said. "Of course, we don't sell the actual SXX; we sell a machine that's a copy of the SXX that sells for less and will actually cost you more."

"Can I buy more software to go with it?"

"It already comes with $25 worth of software that we say is worth $2,500. Wait until you get it home and discover what's missing before you come back to buy some more," counseled Bob.

"That sounds smart," I agreed. "Can I surf on that big network of adolescent introverts called the IntroWeb?"

Bob reassured me, "Well, you could connect to that with almost any machine, but with this one we sell you a subscription service so you can pay a monthly fee for that."

"Oh, great," I replied. "Just as long as I can communicate by keyboard with strangers I wouldn't want to talk to in person."

I got the whole thing home and set it all up. I spent a few weeks reading the "quick reference manuals" for the software programs.

I soon realized my computer didn't have enough power. I had only 8 zillion bytes and found out it would run much faster and better with 16 zillion bytes.

I went back to the friendly computer store and discovered that technology had zoomed along so fast that my computer was now being sold for two-thirds the price I had bought it for.

"No problem," said Bob, my hacking counselor and spending stylist. "We'll refund half the difference and charge you only twice as much for the other 8 zillion bytes. It will make your computer run a little more expensively."

I took the 8 zillion bytes home but couldn't figure out how to snap them into the computer. The box, however, was the perfect size to brace the short leg of my computer table.

After another week I packed the computer up and took it to the store to let them install the 8 zillion bytes for me. Bob, my spending counselor and upgrade stylist, noticed that my computer was running an old version of Curtains, and I was truly underprivileged unless I paid to have Curtains 95 installed. Why not have the latest? I'm only worried because it's already 1996.

I now have my fabulous computer home and running and discovered some strange things:

* I don't have any reason to print out misleading graphs. Creating pie charts only made me hungry for pie.

* When I lost at solitaire on the computer, a little man came out on-screen and laughed at me. This almost never happened with real cards.

* The online stock prices just made me envious. Instead of buying stocks, I had invested in a bewildering computer. I watched online as the stock market hit record highs.

Talking to people on the IntroWeb, however, was another matter. You could "chat" with strangers by typing on the computer. You could exchange pictures through the mail, or even on-screen. You could even agree to meet them somewhere.

Two women I agreed to meet for lunch stood me up. Just as bad as old-fashioned dating. A third woman I agreed to meet actually met with me. She turned out to be a 50-year-old man. Just as bad as old-fashioned dating.

The trouble was, I only bought my computer so I could do a little writing and print it out. Maybe print a few mailing labels.

The humming of the computer put too much pressure on me to write. It kept whispering the words, "The more expensive a machine is, the less likely you are to use it."

Of the 24 wacky fonts, I could only read three.

So, I took my whole computer / printer / scanner / dating service back to the nice computer store and consulted one last time with Bob, my refund counselor and complaint stylist. He walked me through the superstore aisles to find something to suit my needs.

Everything was way too complicated--zigabytes and baud rates and interlaced versus non-interlaced. Finally at the very end of the "open box buy" table, deep in the back of the store, we came upon something I knew would be perfect. It was very old and strange. Bob almost didn't recognize it. It was a typewriter.

When I got it home and turned it on, strangely enough, I no longer heard the sound of money flying through the Curtains out the Window.

Suddenly, I had all this extra cash from my computer refund. So now I watch a show on TV featuring John and Harriet, my new telespending counselors and jewelry stylists. I've bought all kinds of "fantastic new products!" as John and Harriet often call them: an exercise machine, a fruit juicer, a self-cleaning mop, a cubic zirconium and a triangular sandwich maker. I'm a little more cautious now. Before I buy anything, I always make sure the instruction book is shorter than 200 pages.

"But wait, there's more!" as John and Harriet love to say. Any time they show any computer equipment, I instinctively grab the remote control and start changing channels. Yes, I'm still surfing. Still indoors. Wake me for the hand-hammered Chinese wok.

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