When marketing experts and social scientists extol the benefits of the Computer Age, there's one factor they omit. A computer -- unlike any other tool in our history -- gives one the ability, on a global scale, to look like a jackass.

Through the miracle of e-mail, we can send our mistakes to everyone we know at the speed of light. No longer are we limited to our immediate surroundings when we do something moronic. Now we can share with the world.

Since I work at home, I usually perform my feats of idiocy right here in the house and the only witnesses are 1) my immediate family members, who just roll their eyes because they're accustomed to me, or 2) the dog, who finds everything I do, no matter how ludicrous, to be fascinating, particularly if it might involve dropped food.

But my computer allows me to do something really stupid and share it with friends and business associates everywhere. No matter how much I might've impressed them as a competent human in the past, one flick of the keyboard can show them that, no, they're dealing with an idiot.

A case in point: Recently, a friend sent me a warning about a computer virus running rampant through the e-mail address books of the international computer community. Usually, I disregard such notices because I know they're often hoaxes. But this time I took it seriously. I have several mitigating excuses:

A) I was operating the computer on four hours' sleep.

B) The friend said she'd already checked out the warning and it was not a hoax.

C) My mind was busy thinking about the war in Iraq, and CNN was spewing in the background.

D) I was concerned that my friends and loved ones could fall victim to this virus.

But it all boils down to: E) I am an idiot.

So, being an idiot, I e-mailed the warning to dozens of people. Within minutes, several kindly replied with the information that the warning was indeed a hoax, and the insidious "virus" I'd urged them to delete was, in fact, an installed program that probably did something important in the computer, though nobody was sure exactly what.

Oh, the embarrassment. I sent an immediate correction and mortified apology to all the people I'd warned, then spent the next several hours hurtling around the house, doing physical gyrations as I tried to kick my own butt.

(Yes, I recognize that by writing about this incident, I'm now proving to tens of thousands of other people -- you, the readers -- that I'm an imbecile. But consider this a cautionary tale. If I can save just one of you from similar humiliation, then I'll willingly throw myself on the grenade of ignominy.)

But let's not lose sight of the point here. It's really the computer's fault, not mine. If it weren't for the computer, there would be no viruses, no warnings, no hoaxes. If I didn't have a computer, I couldn't race out onto the Information Highway and wreck my reputation.

Computers can be wonderful tools, and mine does make my job more pleasant in some ways, such as allowing me to waste hours every day playing Solitaire. But for most of the work I do, I could get by with a decent typewriter and a deck of cards.

Sure, e-mail lets me stay in contact with friends and conduct business without spending unnecessarily on postage stamps. The Internet can be a wonderful research tool, as well as a way to fritter away many hours when I could be doing something more valuable to the betterment of mankind, such as laundry.

But I may junk my computer, just to save me from myself. Better to go without e-mail and the Internet than to have -- right there on my desk -- an easy method of looking like a fool before the multitudes.

Without a computer, I could stick to being the village idiot, rather than a global one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Computers + Lack of Sleep = Embarrassment! Glad it's not just me. :P

Thanks for having the guts to share your cautionary tale.