I’ve already established that I’m not a web designer. There was a brief period where I thought I’d have to declare that I was not a web developer, but fortunately people stopped calling me that. But then I realised that there are many folks who think that I am a computer geek.
No, no, no! It simply isn’t true!
One Christmas in the early ’80s, my parents got my brother and I a Commodore Vic20 computer. I learned the basics of BASIC and made my name scroll down the screen. There was a text-based adventure game that displayed “CHICKEN SHIT!” if the player chose a wussy option. I thought this was really mean and rude, so I changed it to read “Oh well you played well but you’ll have to start again”. I liked playing with my Barbies better. Later we got a Commodre 64 and I liked “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago.”
At high school, a really popular subject to take for Sixth Form Certificate was Computer Skills. Everyone agreed that it was a really useful subject to take because you’d learn all the basics about computers and it would give you valuable skills that potential employers would look for. One day all the Computer Skills classes went on a field trip to Waikato University’s computer department. In the whole of the sixth form it seemed that the only people who didn’t go were all the really smart people – the ones who now are working on their PhDs – and me. I wasn’t going to waste my school days studying computers.
I was at Waikato University experimenting with tertiary education. I was in the computer department. I was sitting at a computer doing practical work for a paper called “The Computing Experience.” I only took it because it seemed like an easy credit. It hated it so much. Every vein in my body was filled with self-loathing whenever I stepped into the computer lab. It was so, so uncool. All I can remember is that on the first day one of the lecturers rambled on and on about RSI, about some guy who lost the use of his hands from overuse, had to use his head, but ended up getting RSI in his neck. Like that’d ever happen to anyone taking that course. I also remember that I finished the practical work (“Task 1: Print out sample1.doc”) in half a semester and I got an A.
I ended up working on the helpdesk of an ISP. I didn’t know much about internet connectivity, but I didn’t need to because most of the work involved logging calls. However, about ten minutes before the helpdesk closed every night, we had to “take ’em as they come,” i.e. give out help on the phone, then and there. Most of the time I just told people to call back the next day. The helpdesk supervisor changed and the new supervisor was somehow under the impression that not only did I know how to do tech support, but that I had previously done it. Fortunately after a month on the helpdesk I moved to the accounts department where my only real challenge was figuring out which was debit and which was credit.
I was moving flats. The moving guys came and started hauling away furniture. I’d refered to one of the pieces of furniture “the computer desk.” One of the guys said, “so, you’re a bit of a computer whiz, eh?” Er, no. Owning a computer doesn’t make me a computer whiz, just as owning a car doesn’t make me an expert driver.
I’m not sure how it happened. One moment I was just hanging out at the station to see what happens behind the scenes on talkback radio, the next minute I was sitting in the studio, headphones on, rockin’ the mike as a sidekick on a computer-themed talkback show. There was the host, who kept things going and made sure that things didn’t get too geeky, the expert geek who tackled all the callers questions, and there was me. I’m not sure what I did, other than engage in witty banter. I think once when the geek had a coughing fit and left the studio, I had a wild stab at answering someone’s question about a scanner problem. But most of the time the question “any ideas, Robyn?” was met with, “uh, no.” The most fun had was the time we snuck into the classic hits station and raided their prize cupboard. I left the country, left the show.
I saw comedian Rita Rudner perform once. She joked that if you ask a man what kind of car he’s got he’ll tell you all the specs, everything that’s under the hood. If you ask a woman what kind of car she has, she’ll say, “a blue one” – or whatever colour it is. I’m like that with computers. I have no idea what goes on inside. I’m sure if I’d taken Computer Skills I’d have a better idea, but I’m reasonably clueless as to what goes on under the hood. I used to have a beige computer. It was running Windows-something (probably 2000). I don’t know how big the hard drive was, or how fast the processor was or whatever else is measured. But I got sick of it because it was big and beige and boring. So I sold it and got an iBook. I’d had minimal experience with Macs before, but I’d never owned one before. It was lovely. Everything worked so smoothly and easily. There was very little bullshit to contend with. The best thing, though, was that it was really pretty. The new iBooks are cool, white and silver. Yes, that’s right: I like my computer because it’s pretty.
I’m not a computer geek. Some people assume that I am. They tell me that I must because I own a computer/have a web page/had a job involving a computer. But I’m not.
A woman I used to work with used to often say, “I’m not technical,” whenever someone tried to engage her in geek talk. Well hey, I’m not technical either. I know a few things and I once knew what TCP/IP stood for, but mostly I’m not technical and I have no idea what most of the stuff in a computer shop is.
And I like that. I like the fact that if I watch a movie like “AntiTrust”, it’s not really obvious to me that there’s stuff being done that can’t really happen with real computers. I like that I don’t really know what’s going on behind the silver and white case of my iBook. I’m going to concentrate on what I like doing, what I’m good at. I shall leave the technical stuff to those who like that stuff. I use a computer, but I don’t care about computers.