Thank God for computers.
Regular readers will know that I don't say that lightly, trapped as I am in the high tech industry, daily aware of the ever-thinning thread that ties me to a paycheck. I'm well aware that I live at the mercy of technological advances, and the tenuous nature of the whole thing can get very stressful. The "economic downturn" (read: recession) hit the tech sector hard, and it's still taking a beating, so it's not like computers have made the world depression-proof or anything. And beyond the day to day working with them, computers have staged a veritable coup and have rendered dealing with actual human beings not just unnecessary but possibly expensive, as I found out when I got a letter saying that my bank now wants to charge me to talk to a teller. Thanks Citibank!
Still, I've said it once and I'll say it again. Thank God for computers. Because in spite of the frustration and irritation they cause, they have in fact wrought unimaginable positive change to this mortal coil. They have accomplished the once unthinkable, the nigh unto impossible, the sort of change that few dared dream.
They've made geeks cool.
I mean, think about it. The richest man in the world is Bill Gates. And Bill Gates is, arguably, the biggest geek in the world. And while you could persuade me that Bill Gates himself isn't all that cool (he's still wearing those dumb-ass pullover crew neck sweaters, for example), being the richest man in the world is pretty damn cool. It's certainly not a job I would turn down. It'd break the ice nicely at parties. "And what do you do?" "Oh, I'm the richest man in the world." "Well, how's that working out for you?"
But Bill Gates is an anomaly. In more ways than just the one I'm going to expound upon (have you seen those glasses??) but let's try to stay on topic. Computers made Bill Gates the richest man in the world, which is a great gig, but now it's taken. Computers made Larry Ellison an extremely rich man as well, but they also turned him into a hostile asshole with a God complex, which isn't cool at all. The money thing is a two-edged sword, and it's really not confined to computers. Any rich guy can dress badly (and here I'm thinking of Liberace), and money has turned lot of people into raging dickweeds (witness Uday Hussein).
So it's really not the money factor that I'm thinking about when I say that computers made geeks cool. Even if we're not talking money on the scale of Gates or Ellison, if we've learned anything in the last two years it's that investing in high tech is at best risky and at worst downright stupid, especially when we're talking about investing in web vaporware. A piece of advice before we move on? If the company in which you're considering investing doesn't have a business plan that in any way conforms to known economic theories, and assures you that this is OK because they're creating a "new economy"? Run. Away.
Thank you. Back to your regularly scheduled essay.
Computers made geeks cool when technology - and understanding technology - became cool. When technology moved out of the labs and into our lives we began to appreciate the nerds, putting them on a bit of a pedestal because they understood and created and built what we could not.
I don't include myself in that group because although I work with the guys - and they are overwhelmingly male - who understand and write software, I just sit around and complain about the mistakes they make while doing it. They call it testing the software. I don't, nor do I wish to, understand the code to the point where I myself could write much of it. It's a sweet setup, harping on the mistakes of people smarter than me. So while it's true that I work with computers all day, slowly destroying my eyesight by staring at a monitor for hours at a stretch, and it's true that I know the difference between XML and HTML, and yes, I'm guilty as charged of knowing how to clean my registry and defrag my hard drive, I'm not really a geek. Maybe you know all that stuff too, since you're reading this from your computer. It doesn't really make us geeks.
I know all this first-hand, despite my protestations of not being a geek myself, because I'm married to a real geek.
When I say that to people, I get a lot of different responses. Some folks, upon hearing me unabashedly state that I'm married to a geek, look at me in shock, as if I have just insulted my dear husband. Others nod sympathetically, possibly because they're domiciled with their own brand of geek. Still others grin and turn to shake Dave's hand, as though relieved by the acknowledged presence of another of their own kind.
Whatever the response, it doesn't change the facts. I'm married to a man who will install virus detectors on my computer when I'm not home. And the weird thing is that I appreciate it. I'm a borderline geek and I'm married to a true geek, and as such there is a black hole-like pull that draws me ever closer to true geekdom. It's an inescapable force, sort of like death, taxes, and Orange Milano cookies.
The tide is definitely pulling me out to the geek sea, though. When we had an area put in for a garden in the backyard, I spent hours measuring out the projected full size of each plant and drawing a scale map for the landscaper that showed where holes should be dug and drip lines installed. It was the sort of thing Dave would do if we were considering moving a couch. My general disinclination to plan in such detail was reinforced when our landscaper, a huge bear of a man who strongly resembles a WWF wrestler but can tell you the name of every flower on your block, moved some of the plants around because he knows far better than I do which things you should plant near other things (basil and tomatoes work well together because the basil keeps bugs off the tomatoes), and which stuff you shouldn't plant at all (eggplant? Unless you use a lot of them, you might want to skip 'em and stick to buying them at the store because they destroy your soil. We don't use a lot of them).
Gardens aside, my husband's desire to use technology in our every day life has resulted in some interesting home improvement abilities. For example, I have a lousy imagination for physical spaces. I'm absolutely notorious for being spatially challenged. I look at an empty room and imagine it has the capacity to hold a couch, a love seat, a chair, the entertainment center, a dining room table and 6 chairs. When the furniture shows up, the dining room set has no place to go.
Yes, that's exactly what happened when we went to France. No, it was not pretty.
Dave measures things, an ability I have but one I often forget to take advantage of. He also has this nifty trick with the computer. He takes a picture of a room, takes pictures of things we want to put in the room, scales and turns everything appropriately and sets the pictures of the stuff in the picture of the room so we can see how it will look. He can also change the colors of things like the carpet and drapes. Dorky, no? Yes! But actually extremely cool. Because now we know for sure that we don't want electric orange carpets, whereas before he spent 4 hours with Photoshop, we still weren't sure. (Well… one of us still wasn't sure…)
Seriously though, he's run a couple of scenarios with our upstairs bathroom, which we're still trying to design, and it's been really helpful for yours truly, who is of the "Go ahead and try it and if I hate it we'll rip it out and start over in a few years" school of interior design. It's fun to see what a room could look like even before you've called a contractor. I have a great time asking Dave to turn the shower purple and the walls emerald green - it satisfies the psychedelic freak in me without ever having to lift a paintbrush.
And I think that's pretty cool.
- KNP June 15, 2003