Deal 'em, HAL

We were having the carpets cleaned at our house, and I was sitting at my desk in my home office. No chance of doing anything productive with carpet-cleaning machinery roaring all around, so I was plunking away at computer Solitaire.

The carpet guy noticed and said, "Solitaire, huh? It's funny, with all the high-tech games out there, the one I see people playing most is good old Solitaire."

"It's my downfall," I said without looking away from the screen, too busy losing another game. "Keeps me from getting any work done."

"You're in good company," he said. "Everywhere I go, doctors and lawyers, everyone's playing Solitaire."

That brought me up short. Here's a guy who spends all day in other folks' offices and homes and, everywhere he goes, people are wasting time playing cards with their computers? Don't they have anything better to do?

I recently saw a good movie called "The Man from Elysian Fields." In the film, Andy Garcia plays an unsuccessful novelist (a role for which I felt a special empathy). During one tough period in the novelist's life, he's suffering from writer's block. How did the filmmakers illustrate this? They zoomed in close to his computer to show he was playing Solitaire instead of working.

A guilty titter arose from the audience, one that said, "Been there. Done that."

And all this time I thought I was the only one who wasted hours of every workday playing computer Solitaire and its evil cousin, Free Cell. Apparently, the problem is more widespread.

You might expect that people like me, those without regular jobs, would be especially susceptible to this addiction. We're in our home offices all day with no bosses looking over our shoulders.
But "doctors and lawyers?" Are attorneys spending their billable hours diddling their keyboards rather than seeking truth and justice and headline-grabbing tobacco settlements? Are doctors taking time away from patients to have "consultations" with their computers?

These days, most American workers have computers on their desks. Are they all squeezing in a few hands of Solitaire between clients? Is this why you can never get anyone to answer a business phone?

The United States has the most productive workforce on the planet. Could we be even more productive if we weren't wasting huge amounts of time playing cards? If everyone stopped playing Solitaire, maybe we could pull the economy out of its slump.

Then again, perhaps Solitaire is the cause of the slump. Maybe, after 9/11 and Enron and Iraq and the deluge of other bad news, American workers said to themselves, "Whew, I can't take it anymore. Maybe a few quiet games of Solitaire will lift my spirits . . . "

Next thing you know, the economy's in the toilet.

You don't have to be completely paranoid to take this even further, though it helps. Computer Solitaire could be a terrorist plot to wreck our productivity. Or, it could be Bill Gates' secret plan to take over the world economy.

That "irrational exuberance" Alan Greenspan's always going on about? That's when someone wins a game.

Because what could be more irrational than devoting large blocks of time to a game that's so hard to win? No matter how much you practice (and, believe me, I've tested this theory), Solitaire remains very difficult. Lots of luck involved. Make one wrong move and -- pfft! -- it's time to start over.

And you will start a new game. You might plan to just dip in, play one little game, and get out again before anyone notices that you're wasting company time. But you're an American; you want to win. Next thing you know, the only people left in the office are you and the janitors.

How can we stop this evil influence? By swearing off Solitaire. We can become more productive workers and stop wasting our lives.

Follow my lead, America. No more Solitaire. Find a better way to use your workday.

I, personally, intend to spend more time playing Tetris.


Anonymous said...

Come on, is there anything better than winning a hand and having those cards bounce all over the screen? It's like sex...well, not very good sex...but, you know what I mean.

You mention Bill Gates as the force behind computer solitaire...urban legend says you're right. Back in the early days of Windows, Bill thought a familiar game like solitaire was a perfect tool to train millions of newbies on how to use the mouse's click and drag functions, the fundamental skill needed to navigate his new OS. I guess it worked.

Clair Dickson said...

HAHA! This is hilarious. And don't ever get started in Spider Solitaire...