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Those were the days

DSL, PDAs … what’ll they think of next?

I noticed the man sitting by himself, silently weeping, in the Internet cafe where I worked. He was elderly but robust, portly, with white hair and a large, handlebar mustache. I went over to him, introduced myself, and asked him if he needed anything.

“Yes. You could stop all this convergence nonsense,” he said. “Never saw the point of it. A computer is a computer and a TV is a TV. God never intended the two to be put together into a phone. What’s that beeping, young man?”

“Um, my cell phone,” I answered. “It’s telling me I’ve got e-mail…or an ‘I Love Lucy’ rerun.”

“In my day,” he harrumphed, “a computer was a computer and by God, you had to know what to do with it. Young man, have you ever heard of a thing called DOS?”

I was under strict orders not to fraternize with the customers, so I sat down with him and listened.

“There was honor amongst users–as we called people who used computers–back then. And a sense of true knowledge.” He sighed. “Today no one knows the thrill of typing ‘x-copy slash-s slash-a slash-v.’

“I had a friend back then, name of Joe. We used to write batch files together. Glorious, beautiful batch files. But I lost Joe … he went over to the other side.”

“The Communists?”

“No, the Macintoshers. Back in ’84 he came to my house all smiley and everything, wanting to show me his new computer. The damn thing couldn’t even run batch files. ‘Oh, but look what I can do with this mouse,’ he said, silly as a GM executive at an Earth Day parade. I tried to reason with him, but it was hopeless.

“It was eight years before I saw him again. I had finally–and reluctantly, started to use Windows. I invited him over to take a gander at my new medical encyclopedia CD-ROM–Encartiac. But when he saw my Windows system, he went all crazy, yelling at me for using a computer of the evil Microsoft. When Encartiac refused to load, he blamed it on Windows. When my system crashed, he blamed it on Windows. When the power went out on my entire block, he blamed it on Windows. Joe and I haven’t spoken since.”

Why wired

“It wasn’t long after that that this darned Internet thing came along. Oh, the old ARPAnet was all fine and good. Of course, that was really for UNIX lads. But Web pages and universal e-mail? What will they think of next–online pornography?”

I was tempted to suggest a few URLs, but I held my tongue.

“I have nothing against modems,” he pressed on. “I’ve been a member of CompuServe since the days when floppy disks really flopped and hard drive prices made them hard to buy. But as I told my five-year-old granddaughter when she wanted to e-mail me some drawings, ‘Internet? Bah! If you want to send me anything, join CompuServe like a real geek!’

“So she e-mailed me something anyway–said CompuServe now supports the Internet. I tell you, it’s not proper.

“You know, there was a time when you had to know something before you could use a modem. You had to understand Xmodem, Ymodem, and even Zmodem if you wanted to really appreciate the astonishing speed of a 9K connection.

“Today you don’t even need a modem to use a modem. You can use modem cables and DLS or what have you.”

“DSL,” I corrected him. “We have it here.”

He looked at me as if I’d just tried to sell him United Airlines stock. “Well, yes, I suppose you do. And tell me something, young man–does it make you happy?”

“It keeps me employed.”

“Of course. And you don’t think you could have found employment in the days when they wouldn’t let you near a computer if you couldn’t write dBase code?” “I don’t know, I’m just a waiter.”

“Good lord, show some self-respect! Do you watch television?”

“Yes.”

“And where do you watch it?”

“At my girlfriend’s house…from the living room sofa.”

“Precisely,” he shouted, almost approvingly. “That’s a very good place to watch it. But you better be careful, young lad, because before you know it they’re going to expect you to watch TV from your personal computer, and then where will you be?”

“Um, I don’t know. Will I still be able to watch it from my girlfriend’s sofa?”

“Why should you? You’ll be busy doing other things on your girlfriend’s sofa…like reading e-mail and surfing the Internet! It’s all part of this grand new convergence everyone’s talking about. Soon you won’t be able to tell the difference between your computer, your TV, your phone, or your silly little PDA! Why, do you know that in my day PDA stood for ‘public display of affection.’ Now how’s that for a silly thing to do on your girlfriend’s sofa!”

I spotted my boss out of the corner of my eye and figured I should get back to work. I got up and excused myself. As I walked away, I heard him muttering to himself. “Why, some people actually say that I hate new technology. Horsefeathers! I love new technology. VCRs, for instance–darn fine machines!”

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