Monday, March 14, 2011

Computer Downtime

Last week I lost my Internet connection. It was very disconcerting. I felt as though I had been thrown into a virtual prison and placed in solitary confinement. I had to run to the library to check my email (and, all right, put in an appearance in my online games).

I hadn’t noticed how accustomed I’ve become to online interaction. It occurred to me that I have dozens of friends with whom I cannot communicate any other way except online. If something happens to me, my family will need to email them or post something on Facebook. Otherwise many of my friends would never know where I went. I’ve had a friend or two with severe health problems who I suspect may have died as they abruptly stopped emailing. (Unless I seriously offended them somehow.)

Conversely, when the earthquake hit Japan I ran to Facebook to see if a friend of mine who lives there was okay. (He was.)

So while I could have worked offline on the computer, I decided it would be a good time to reread Electronic Life: How to Think About Computers. Michael Crichton published the book in 1983, and parts of it are obsolete. But the bulk of the book is Crichton’s exploration of the philosophy behind computers and our use of them.

As Crichton explained:

I began to realize that first-time computer users needed help with something not covered in most books and manuals - namely, an attitude to take toward this new kind of machine. How to think about computers, not just how to use them.

In Electronic Life, Crichton discusses computers with his usual prescience so it’s not surprising that most of the book is relevant to thinking about computers 28 years later.

Two of the entries made me smile when thinking about my recent technological mishap.

Computers, like boxers and airplanes, go down when they fail. They are also said to crash or bomb out. The sudden violence implicit in such terms should be taken seriously. This slang originates with hard-core computer technicians. They know what they’re talking about.” (p. 69, paperback edition)

Error Messages
...Listen to your machine. It’s doing the best it can. (p. 72)

Friday, March 4, 2011

What is your favorite Michael Crichton book?

What is your favorite Michael Crichton book?

My favorite of all of Michael Crichton’s books is his autobiography Travels.

My favorite of Michael Crichton’s novels is Timeline.