Dr. Johnson and the computer

The trials and tribulations of an elderly blind lady learning to use the machine of the 'future.'

By HADASSAH BAT HAIM
January 10, 2007 10:55
4 minute read.
comp mouse image 88

comp mouse image 88. (photo credit: )

If Dr. Johnson had lived another 300 years or so, no doubt he would have paraphrased his famous saying about 'he who is tired of London is tired of life' into he (or she) who doesn't use a computer is leading a deprived life. This seems to be the consensus of opinion of those nearest and dearest to this Metro writer, especially since the final, regretful last appearance of the portable Underwood that had so faithfully served for so long. There were several indications that its time had come, apart from a few missing letters and an unworkable spacer. One was the gradual diminution of the letters, so coherence became a very hit-or-miss operation. There was also the hunt for a ribbon, received with astonishment in just those facilities claiming to have everything for everything regarding writing apparatus. It crosses my mind to ask if they have any quill pens, but this would occasion more time than I can spare. "You mean a manual machine?" - "Try a novelty shop!" they tell me. The young - very young - man assigned to introduce me to my new - well, not very new - device that was going to change my life, says: "You see, it's specially good for people who are visually challenged." This is a polite way of saying "blind." "I'll just boot it up for you." I glance at his feet. He seems to be wearing sandals. Maybe it has to be pedaled like the old sewing machines. "Letters can be as big as you need them," he enthuses and indeed there appear, at his command, letters as big as apples. To use them I would need a screen like cinemascope. "And what's more you can change color. Black on white, white on black, red on white or green." I am advised to keep an eye on the monitor and if the menu looks strange. Perhaps it serves chocolate with chips? I would like to ask but I see this is not a time to be frivolous. "If the menu is distorted," he repeats, "you are in trouble. Watch the monitor." I would if I knew where it is located. "This is your mouse," he says, putting a small white object into my hand. At this range I can see that of course it is not a mouse. "It has two buttons - like a mouse has ears." Privately I think that anthropomorphism is out of place, as it does nothing to endear this small machine to me. "It controls the cursor with the left-hand button." He rushes on - "the right hand button - no - never mind about that now, I will explain that another time." This makes me uneasy. What terrible consequences might ensue if I push the right-hand ear by mistake? Will it fall to pieces? Catch fire? Send messages? "The left ear controls the cursor. You'll soon get the hang of it and then you can have a blog." He seems to be talking gibberish. It is a language related to loudspeaker dialect - the incomprehensible instructions beamed at travelers in bus and railway stations, airports and even on long-distance train. With great concentration and effort I type out a cheery greeting to a 10-year-old expert far away, who will, I am sure, applaud my enterprise. Spelling is involved and there is some uneasiness about the word 'favour' which, at the insistence of the machine, loses its 'u.' The program for email is set up and I am assured that my message will be exposed to the recipient in less than a minute. Actually, there was no desperate rush to confirm the connection. A postcard would have done just as well. "Save, save, save," says my tutor, echoing my friend the accountant. This was an earlier lesson, accomplished with ease and a confident flourish. I press the button and everything immediately disappears from the screen. "Not that button," I hear in the background, "THAT one!" "Sorry." Sorry I have disappointed him. He probably had hoped that given my great age and my vast reading experience I might be less idiotic than a doting granny hopefully trying to keep up with the next-but-one generation. He is from Migdal Or (tower of light), the wonderful facility for helping people who can't see, can see a bit, can see straight but not sideways, have one medium eye and one bad eye and all other variations on sight. He, like all their assistants, was endlessly patient. The message, banal as it was, cannot be retrieved. No doubt the next scientist landing on the moon will find it carved on a rock. I hope he will not be offended at being addressed as 'My dear little chickie.' Dr. Johnson would certainly have been ecstatically happy at the prospect of so many new words, new meanings and new concepts for his dictionaries.


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