Cussing at computers

My wife and I are in the home office we share and she says, “Sure is a lot of muttering in here.”

She was right, though I hadn’t noticed until she mentioned it. We weren’t muttering at each other or even talking to ourselves. We both were grumbling at our computers.

Like many people who work at home, we spend all day every day sitting at computers. Much of that time is spent in one-sided conversations with the machines.

The computers rarely talk back, so we don’t get into that creepy “2001: A Space Odyssey” thing: “Sorry, but I can’t do that. Dave.” In fact, I keep the volume on my computer turned off, so it says nothing at all. I find those cheery “You’ve got mail!” announcements unnerving.

But my wife and I have lots to say to our computers, mostly along the lines of “Hurry up, you dirty $*@&#!”

Computers never go fast enough. Get the most powerful machine available, hook it up to the fastest DSL line, operate it expertly, and still the whole process seems too slow. Oh, it might seem fast at first, but as soon as you get accustomed to the new speed, you’re back to, “Come on! I haven’t got all MINUTE!”

Our impatience with computers is particularly acute when we’re roaming the Internet.

I click on a Web address and it starts to open on my screen. The little color bar creeps from left to right, showing that the computer is working on calling up the site. I start getting itchy. I watch that color bar so closely, you’d think it was my electrocardiogram. After, oh, 15 seconds, I give up.

“Never mind,” I mutter. “I didn’t want to look at it that bad.”

As if another 10 seconds would make a difference. As if my time is so valuable that I can’t wait.

(On the other hand, how many of us will say on our deathbeds, “I wish I’d spent more time waiting for YouTube nonsense to buffer.”)

Not all the mumbling and grumbling is impatience. Some centers on rhetorical questions -- “Why won’t the computer let me do this?” “Where did my file go?” “Why did I ever choose to work with machines?” These are philosophical ponderings for which there are no answers.

Sometimes, our computer carping is aimed at particular aggravations, such as pop-up ads or spam or unwanted “updates” or our own typos. These verbalizations involve words that we’d never inflict on other humans, especially if children are present, but we feel free to bleat at our computers.

Some of the muttering is actual communication. Pleas for help, usually, and therein lies a certain danger. If your officemate asks for assistance and you ignore her because you think she’s just griping at her screen again -- well, let’s say misunderstandings can occur.

At times like these, the best answer might be: "Sorry, but I can't do that. Dave."

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