The lost fortnight

Posted: 01.29.13

Maybe a 12-step program is called for

It was a short little work trip. No real heavy lifting would be needed on the road, but a Windows device for ongoing projects would be nice, so I thought I’d take along the Windows 8 Surface RT device we’ve been sharing in the office. Slim, lightweight, long battery life, just the thing for four days on the road. Except for one thing: it broke. Now, I’m not going to go on and on about how this machine broke because that stuff happens, especially with early product and all that. And besides, I’ve already worn myself out crying about it to everyone who’d listen.

My thinking was that I needed ­Office compatibility and that I’d never get used to the Windows 8 machine unless I forced myself to depend on it. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong machine and the wrong week for this little experiment.

So it broke.

As everyone who has had this experience knows, a broken computer is an accelerated joyride though the stages of grief. By the time I got to acceptance, it was time for bed. The next morning, it started all over again. I could not figure out what to do. When were my meetings? Where was I supposed to be? Breakfast?

I did manage to get sorted out—I did have a phone after all, but honestly, it’s just not the same.

How did we get like this? Here we are fascinated by werewolves, vampires, and zombies in the 21st century, and we have completely given our lives over to these evil machines.

It would be nice to say that I came to grips with the situation and read some good books and got a little time in by the pool—that did not happen. Instead, I prowled the hotel hunting for available computers. I haunted the conference press room and loomed over other unfortunate slaves silently willing them to get off the damn computer and give it to me. I could not shake the feeling that I was slacking when I wasn’t on a computer even though I never got any real work done in the short periods I did get hold of one. I did nothing but make myself unpopular with my colleagues in any number of ways including all the aforementioned whining and crying.

Don’t be worrying about zombies banging on the doors; they’re already in the house.

The Singularity, oh yeah, it’ll be wonderful.

Not so fast, buckaroo

Meanwhile, the news is full of ­stories about the end of the PC era, and the death of Microsoft. Sales of PCs are down, even Apple PCs. Apparently all those home computers people were buying all through the 90s and the 00s (do we call them the Oh-Ohs?) were just being used for surfing the Internet and catching up on email, tasks that your average phone can now take in stride.

Tablets and phones are better suited for home use. Why, you can IM at the dinner table and play games while watching TV.

I used to think that the increased mobility we get from phones and tablets would give us a chance to get our lives back. They’d let us go out into the world with devices and only use them as we need them—not sit chained at a computer trying to get it all done before the weekend. Instead, we’re still chained to a work system trying to get it all done before the weekend, and then we take the tablets and phones with us on the weekend.

It’s obvious the PC era is not ending; it’s mutating and computers are becoming more a part of our lives, not less. Don’t cry for Microsoft, Imelda.

By the way, none of this has anything to do with the real problem. The real problem is that these devices make it possible for us to work all the damn time, and what do we do? We work all the damn time. Humans have always been incipient workaholics, we just didn’t have the means to work all the time. It gets dark, a farmer has to quit. The office closes, a clerk has to go home. Not anymore. We are probably going to have to create some kind of secular sabbath, so that we can get better at taking time off.

A footnote

The sick Windows 8 Surface RT machine had to go to the hospital. I took it to a Microsoft store that’s just down the street from the Apple store. True, it’s not as crowded as the Apple store, but oh my god, these people are so nice. They brought me coffee, they said there-there. They were heartbroken about the failure of my machine and never once looked at me like I was an idiot or in some way responsible for the problem. This business of being #2 seems to be good for Microsoft. I might just go the Microsoft store for a cup of coffee and hang out during the next secular s­abbath.