Though many of us are computer users, few of us are computer experts. We may know how to plug a modem in, but few of us know the scripts, servers, circuitry and binary codes that are the lifeblood of daily virtual reality. When we run into problems with our machines, we tend to respond to them the way we would to other complex behavior--in other words, we think of them as other people. Thus we not only become frustrated by computer failures, but we personalize them as well.
The problem with a lot of us is that we're not linear thinkers, and have a hard time imagining computers as the bundles of processes, Boolean choices and scripts that they actually are. Again, we tend not to approach these problems in a straightforward, uniform fashion. And when I say "we," I definitely mean me.
I recently faced my own large computer problem--a Web browser malfunction that kept most of my Web pages from loading properly for almost two months, almost driving me to despair, off the Internet, and off my own blog.
In January, my Firefox browser begin hanging up, sometimes for several minutes at a time. I'm a journalist, of course, and don't have much time when I'm doing research to deal with finicky Web browsers.
As a way to help other people approach computer problems, I'll give you a step by step account of how I encountered my computer problem, isolated it and overcame it.
Here are the steps I recommend for dealing with a computer crisis:
Step 1. Go ballistic.
The first thing I did was scream, "You mother fucking piece of shit. I'm through with Firefox. I'm through with it. I'm going back to Internet Explorer. I'll give Bill Gates all my fucking money. I don't care. Piece of mother fucking shit put a fucking ice pick through my brain and end it all right now mother fucker."
Step 2. Think back to what was the last thing you did.
I tried to remember when the problem started. Could my browser have contracted a virus when I was on some rogue Web site, perhaps one that promotes Internet gambling or is dedicated to telling the pictorial tales of Jenna Jameson? I fished around on many a Web site and found that, indeed, there were new viruses that my Norton Internet Security 2009 might not find.
Like Woody Allen in Hannah and her Sisters, I thus convinced myself that my computer had become disease ridden and incurable, and that no anti-virus software could cure it. I decided after reading one page that I had the Vundo Trojan variant, and sought help from support sites. I then ran to the Microsoft Malicious Software removal tool on the same site.
Problem solved, right? Well no. After running the scan twice, a process that took several hours while I slept, I woke up to find that my wife had turned it off. I cursed her and told her she was a bitch and a harpy and she was determined to ruin us both with her meddling. Then I ran the program again. It found nothing. It said my system was clean. Happily, I turned on my computer only then my heart sank as once my Firefox browser quoth--like the raven quoth "Nevermore"--"Server not found. Server not found."
This was some two weeks into my debacle. My sanity and my marriage were on the line. I was soon distracted by another problem, which was an eviction notice, that forced me to forget the problem, or at least build a Berlin Wall around it in my mind and heart.
Step 3. Take your anger out on inanimate objects.
Yes, will certainly applaud me for my next straightforward approach to my problem over the next few weeks, which was to click the mouse relentlessly and angrily hundreds of times times until my desired page came or I had become tired and despairing and hungry.
Sigmund Freud once elaborated on a concept called "the death drive," or the compulsion to repeat. This, he said, was any individual's tendency to repeat acts over and over to continually bring his conditions back to normal, or stasis, the ultimate stasis, of course, being non-existence or death. I would just like to say at this point that computers are wonderful machines to practice this tendency on.
Pretty soon, I tried a variation on this compulsion by hitting CTRL-R to refresh my pages. When I wasn't working on this fetishization of my plug-in devices, I was over and over plugging in the same search terms for a supercilious and stuttering Google page: "Firefox won't load." "Firefox slow to load." "Firefox hangups." All of which brought me back to the same pages over and over, none of which seemed to be helping me with the problem. I commiserated with other users who said they were giving up Firefox. I got rid of my plug ins. I got rid of Ad Block. I opened in safe mode. Nothing seemed to help.
Step 4. Back to nature.
This was a good time to restore my pride by going off and doing something else I was good at. I like to write poetry. Also, there was a lot of change in my change jar to collect and cash. Digital photography has become a hobby as well. I reminded myself that I chose willingly when I was younger not to be good at technology, and that, no matter what the problem, I was sticking to that decision now. Who needs a fucking computer anyway, I asked myself.
Step 5. Take out anger on innocent people.
If you are a Democrat, you can attack Republicans on Facebook, or vice versa. Or you can argue about esoteric subjects with friends, like how stupid the Israeli Mossad is to carry out political assassinations on foreign soil just when a fragile detente has been achieved with the country's Arab neighbors.
Step 6. Check other programs.
Now this is where the fuzzy thinker like me benefits from having all that time off to do other productive things, because now, newly refreshed, with my head screwed on straight, I was able to approach the problem from a completely new perspective. My breakthrough came when I realized that it was not just Firefox but ALL my Web browsers that weren't working. I finally switched to Google Chrome only to discover that it shuddered and creaked like an old woman in the face of my ubiquitous computer threat. Yes, Firefox was innocent.
Step 7. Hat in hand, ask a friend for help.
Of course, I have only one friend I contact in these circumstances and he didn't get back to me. It wasn't enough my computer was belittling me, but to have a friend do it was all too much.
Step 8. Withhold friendship for a few months if he doesn't come through.
This is a bit of a tangent, but ...
Step 9. Check the operating system.
Obviously, it was my operating system. Microsoft had installed automatic updates, after all, and so likely rendered my Web browsers impotent. Naturally I would have to do a system restore. So I did one, which was as fruitless as the War of 1812. It occurred to me that maybe it was time to upgrade to Windows 7--to pay some $100 plus for the peace of mind that spending too much money brings bourgeois pigs like myself. I remembered, however, as I reached for the jade green box in Radio Shack, that when I was younger, poorer and smarter, I had never thrown money at problems. I couldn't afford to. I determined to win this battle through my intellect alone.
So I came home and banged my fist on the mouse hundreds of times again.
Step 10. Eat protein.
Eggs are a great source.
Step 11. Dig deeper into a new level of abstraction.
So I waded deeper into territory I didn't understand, this time into the murky waters of domain name systems. These DNSes are acronyms I barely understand, but I understood enough that perhaps the latest versions of my browsers had perhaps cluttered up my router. I had resisted attempts to check the router before this for a couple of reasons--for one thing I have a laptop using this router that was unaffected by these problems and furthermore, I hadn't encountered any other Internet problems with e-mail, so I never looked beyond the browsers for the problem. However, I read here that new versions of Firefox load multiple domain names at once with a process called "prefetching" and it's possible to turn this off. So I did by following the rules on this page. Thinking I was closing in on the problem, I rubbed my hands together.
Step 12. Write a novel.
Again, if you're a fuzzy thinker, especially one in the arts, you usually train your mind by focusing on problems in different ways. If the problem doesn't occur to you immediately, you need to flush it out somehow by doing something else for a while.
Step 13. Unplug the god damn Wi-Fi.
Sure enough, when I plugged my cable modem into my computer directly, all my problems cleared up. All my pages started to load. It was the router after all. I was as happy as a newborn just getting a bath. Only the thing is, I need the Wi-Fi for various reasons. What was wrong with the fucking thing?
Step 14. Pull out all your old boxes trying to find paperwork reminding you how you programmed the fucking Wi-Fi.
Programing a router was one of my least favorite exercises ever. I did it first with a techie friend and then with a nice lady from India who worked for Netgear, the manufacturer of my horrible machine. After chasing down passwords that were as old as the Bible, I tried to break back into my machine and look into its mysterious Rosetta Stone of codes and security procedures. The only advice I got from the message boards was to first upgrade the firmware.
Step 15. Look up "firmware" in the dictionary.
After finding out what it was, I found my Netgear model number on the company Web site, and found out there was indeed new software available for my machine. So I downloaded it and then, through the manual configuration panel in Firefox, upgraded this firmware to my machine.
Finally, miraculously, after months of tears and anguish and recrimination and water weight gain, all my browsers started working again. My router was the problem.
Now, obviously I am not bragging. I'm sure a technologically sophisticated person could have figured this out in an hour, whereas it took me a couple of months. I'm only sharing this story with you to inspire you if you have faced such problems yourself, and to let you know that, if you feel like putting your foot through your computer, you're not alone. Let my pathetic story be an appeal to you to see our common humanity. Or just laugh at me. I can take it.