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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Computer chaos - plugged or unplugged

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On-screen woes are bad enough, but wait until the thing is broken.

When the brain is faster than the fingers, keyboard fumbles can trigger an Alice and the rabbit hole-like journey into strange computer worlds. Photo / Getty Images
When the brain is faster than the fingers, keyboard fumbles can trigger an Alice and the rabbit hole-like journey into strange computer worlds. Photo / Getty Images

Like cars that can go from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye and reach speeds far exceeding the legal limit, laptop computers have much more capacity than many of us need or, in some cases, can be trusted with.

I use my computer for email, internet access and basic word processing - ie writing stuff.

That's it.

But every now and again I get a reminder of what lies beneath.

I'm not one of those accomplished typists whose fingers glide caressingly over the keyboard like a concert pianist during a pianissimo sequence.

On the contrary, I jab the keys harder than is absolutely necessary, and my mind tends to work faster than my fingers.

As a result I sometimes hit the wrong key, or combination of keys, and like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, suddenly find myself in a place I didn't know existed and definitely don't belong.

But getting back to my Microsoft Office Word document (non-commercial use) is easier said than done.

I can't retrace my steps because I don't know what missteps caused me to blunder into this twilight zone. And wherever I am, the "undo" command cuts no ice there.

So what do you do?

No doubt the IT geeks would advise us to keep calm and apply logic to the situation.

That's easy for them to say because they think like the people who made the computer and created the software.

I have nothing in common with those people.

The go-to remedy when dealing with recalcitrant electronic devices is to switch them off and pull out the plug, but that entails a high risk that the 500 precious words you sweated blood over but for some reason forgot to save will vanish into the ether.

Or you can bash keys at random while swearing viciously. While this provides short-term emotional relief, it will probably consign you to an even deeper, darker place.

I have a modest proposal for the computer industry. Many of your customers are like me - in other words, not like you.

We are not techno-literate and therefore need to be protected from ourselves.

You do this when we close a document without saving it. A message pops up on the screen pointing out that we haven't saved our work and offering us a second opportunity to do so.

Is it too much to ask that whenever we fall down a rabbit hole, we could get a message telling us we've done something bizarre and asking if we are really sure we want to go through with it?

I guess it depends who you ask.

As I discovered recently, not everyone in the computer industry wants to make our lives easier.

It began with an incident that epitomises the tooled-up, technology-dependent present while harking back to silent movie slapstick comedy.

For reasons that will be obvious to any parent, our 19-year-old prefers to set up her laptop at the dining table rather than in her room.

This often involves connecting it to a power source via a cable traversing a well-trodden stretch of floor. One might call it a thoroughfare.

If I had a thousand dollars for every time I'd warned her that one day someone would trip on the cable and do themselves a mischief, I would be dictating this column to my research assistant in my villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

She appears to take it on board, but of course the teenage brain is programmed to delete sound advice, even that which it recognises as valuable, within 30 seconds of receipt.

Well, the inevitable happened, but not quite as I'd imagined.

My wife entered the room absorbed in her iPad.

She tripped on the cable, the iPad flew through the air, crash-landing on my closed laptop which I'd just put down on the table.

The laptop's screen shattered; this isn't a product endorsement but Apple Inc might be interested to know that the iPad came through unscathed.

At the insurance company's behest, my wife took the laptop to a service and repair centre where she was told damage assessment would take three days.

This was just before Christmas, so we decided to wait until normal service was resumed.

After New Year I rang the service centre - and was told damage assessment would take three days. That wasn't a worst case scenario, it was a promise.

And how long to repair it? How long is a piece of string?

This seemed absurd.

What's the point of having a device designed to make us more productive if it takes longer to fix than a jumbo jet?

We found another service centre. My laptop was restored and ready to collect the next morning.

The cable still lies in wait in the thoroughfare.

- NZ Herald

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