Reflections of a ModemJunkie

October, 1997

I am not a Luddite

by Leonard Grossman

An online dictionary gives the following definition:

Luddites (2 syl.). Riotous workmen who went about the manufacturing districts breaking machines, under the notion that machinery threw men out of employ. Miss Martineau says that the term arose from Ned Lud, of Leicestershire, an imbecile who was much hounded by boys. One day he chased a set of tormentors into a house, and broke two stocking-frames, whence the leader of these rioters was called General Lud, his chief abettors Lud's wives, and his followers Luddites. (1811-1816.)

The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer from the New and Enlarged Edition of 1894.

I really don't want to break the machines. (They break down on their own without my help.) I believe with perfect faith that computers create jobs (even though the secretarial staff in my office has shrunk from a 10 to about three). I am not an imbecile. (At least I don't think I am, although those around me may not be as certain lately.) And though I am tormented, I haven't been chasing my tormentors.

By whom am I tormented? By them. The systems managers, the software developers, the web page producers. They all share something in common. They want to design the world in which I live. My office, my network, my leisure. And they want to do it without considering me. No matter how many managers, CEOs, SysAdministrators recite the shibboleth, "You are my customer," I know the truth.

They all have someone else in mind. Themselves, their bosses, the bottom line. But I am not their customer.. I am not buying.

What got me started on this rant?

When our editor asked about my topic for this month, I noted that my office had just gone on line. Perhaps there is some humor in that, I sugested. But guess what!!! It ain't funny.

I have looked forward to becoming networked for years. I could share information. Do legal research from my desk. Have access to more applications. Nirvana!!

The moment has finally come. Overnight we went from machines with nothing officially on them except WordPerfect 5.1 (DOS) to a Networked Win 95 environment. Complete with WP for Windows, Lotus, a whole slew of applications we haven't even discovered yet. And also, Internet access. Internet Explorer, telnet., FTP, Lexis and WestLaw on line.

I have written before about my preference for WP 5.1 for legal documents. And why not, I have been using it about 5 hours a day for about seven years. I won't go into my reasons for my preferences now. And I admit that I am finding advantages to the Windows version as I get used to it. But I was used to the DOS app.

Boom! The sysadmin decreed that it would be deleted overnight. Now we are dependent on the network for access to our wordprocessor. We have gigabyte hard drives with nothing on them. Seven years of my work are now on the network.

And of course they want me to get rid of the old stuff. But there are no hard copies. And with Magellan I could index it and find anything in seconds. But the index won't run on the network. Progress. Why not leave a copy of WP DOS on our machines for emergencies? But then people won't make the transition we are told.

And then there was the first Friday afternoon after we were networked. Now in many offices Friday afternoons are kind of laid back. Indeed, in my office some people arrange to leave early. But for those of us who are there, Friday afternoon is usually very hectic. If we are there whatever we are doing must get out. If it weren't for some deadline we wouldn't be there. If we are lucky, two of the secretaries are in. Twenty or thirty lawyers are hunting and pecking away furiously. Trying to get IT done, whatever it is.

Booom. Suddenly each machine begins to lock up.. Strangely. One at a time.

I run up two flights of stairs. (By now most of the elevators are headed down with smarter people leaving early for the day.) I find the sysadmin's assistant.

"The system is down!!" I shout.

"It can't be," she replies, logging on to my account and proving me wrong, she thinks. But I convince her to come down to our office (the network supports a number of other agencies as well).

She looks at our machines and has to agree. But upstairs everything was fine. What can it be? We unlock the electrical closet and stare at the network concentrator in disbelief. It is shut off. Not an LED blinking. It looks like it is plugged in but close examination shows that the plug has vibrated loose, just beyond the contact point, but still inserted in the surge protector. There had been some construction going on maybe it was the drilling. Noise.

And the whole office was down during the most critical hour of the week. What if they had left a word processor on our machines instead of making us totally dependant on the network.

I could go on with the war stories, but I won't because all of this is really beside the point. The real point is the onslaught of pressure and noise the new system has added to our lives. People in offices next to each other sending each other memos by mail. Transferring files in strange formats. Every few seconds, it seems, another note. More noise.

And Internet access as well. Right there on my desk, the news. It is great but it is more noise. More to sort through. I could even check my private e-mail by telnet. When do you work?

And at the same time learning new interfaces, new apps.

This virtual world is strange. There are lots of things I like. I like keeping half a dozen docs open at once. But it can get confusing. It is easier to make mistakes. And in the virtual world it is harder to see what you are doing. I miss that white on blue screen I could read without my glasses. More noise.

My office used to be a quiet place, with wooden furniture, soft lighting, flowers in summer. Pictures on the wall. I used to get some peace there.

Speaker phones, system furniture, voice mail, e-mail. Pointcast. Push - Pull. The barrage can be overwhelming. Where do you hide? When do you think? Where do you think?

I need Time out. I really do. And I don't think I am the only one. Things are going too fast. There is simply too much noise. Too much new. No place for reflection. We have become addicted to bigger, faster, louder, more. People are curt, wired, or even (shhhh) scared.

I don't feel old, but maybe I am. The next generation has grown up with all of this. It has grown exponentially in their lifetimes. We don't know yet the effects. Can they adapt better than their predecessors? I don't know.

But I do know . . . I do need Time out!

That is nothing new. I have written on this subject before. But in the past I always seemed to be able to grab a quiet corner. Read a book. Hear a concert.

But now I seem to be hooked into it all. My attention span has shortened. I don't feel I am ever really free. Even at home. I try to read a book. But I have to check my e-mail. I want to take a nap, but I have to update my logfile analysis. I have a few minutes before I go out to the next community meeting. But I have to update that web page.. Check the news... write my daughter a note....

Time out. Please. TIME OUT!!

Shortly after the changeover described here, a more drastic change was made. Read about it in They are coming to take me away.

Copyright 1997 Leonard Grossman

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