Guinea Pig

I’ve had an on again off again love affair with computers. My first relationship, brief as it was, occurred in social studies class back in college when I was required to attend something called a computer lab. I had never (nor to this day have I) ventured into anything resembling a laboratory, so staring at this monster-sized, card-spitting monolith in that stark, cold room was, well, uncomfortable.

It was the late 1970s and my classmates and I practically held each others’ hands and knelt before this tall gray stranger, uncertain of the proper introduction. The task was to push some buttons, plug in a long, narrow, dull-colored card and have it spit back out holes and 1s and 2s that, if read correctly, could provide large quantities of data. Of what sort, I never came to know. I was shy; it's safe to say we didn't hit it off. 

Luckily, during my junior year, I finally met a computer I liked. In fact, the two of us got to know each other quite well, after hours no less, at the student-run newspaper. I had been writing most of my papers on a typewriter anyway, so I felt at ease with this newfangled, solidly buttoned machine, with its ability to cut and paste and send and retrieve whole lines of copy. We spent many long nights locked alone together in a closet-sized room as I rushed to meet an early morning deadline for a story about the previous night's shenanigans on frat row.

It would be three years before I contemplated another prospective computer, but as it turned out I barely had a crack at it. I was the entry level executive assistant in my first bonafide public relations job when the machine, delivered with great fanfare, was wheeled right by my desk and plopped down in front of the secretary. I was green with envy. I stared while Angeline patiently tackled its formatting keys and had regular visits from a very handsome tech trainer. But once I discovered the new addition was named Lisa, I was okay with it, and just stopped requisitioning for White Out and printer glass cleaner. Truth is we all ended up hating Lisa anyway due to its mean habit of swallowing annual reviews, brochures and speeches at random.

At at later corporate job, the introductory tour included a visit to the temperature-controlled computer room where several man-sized IBMs hummed and whistled away. I not only gazed in awe at their suits of blue, but was given a peak inside a front cover or two. Nothing remotely familiar stared back out. Indeed, there wasn't a thing in there tempting me to look deeper. We had nothing in common, and it would be the last time I found myself up close and personal with a mainframe hard disk drive.

Early on, at the beginning of the Internet, I was using an IBM-PC on my desk (without any real commitment) when I somehow became the company's most sought after guinea pig. Every so often a young geeky guy would pop up in my cubicle to conduct a test designed to determine whether a new data gathering and searching software program for a client worked, and whether the instructions in the user manual could be followed. While I was happy to oblige and relished the attention, I tapped my forehead to ponder my reputation.

Later, while playing the field, I eventually learned word processing programs like Word and Pagemaker and electronic mail and software like MS-DOS and Lotus and Linux. I remember in 1988 becoming so enthralled with a brand new Compaq laptop that I actually brought it home to show off to my parents. They were impressed, but said I could do better; my very own cute little Macintosh with its friendly mouse eventually landed on my desk. Smitten, I gave up many keystrokes for it, and learned colorful shortcuts to desktop publishing.

But I continued to play the field of Apples and PCs through the turn of the century without any specific preference at all. That is until they all started talking in series upon series of new foreign languages. There were programs called Windows and Quark and Excel and HyperCard, and subsequent new versions with each coming new year. I came to know those programs, too, but my heart wasn’t in it. There just werent enough layers in my brain to keep them all separate.

These days I've settled in with a handy Apple iPad and spend five- and six-hour stretches on the phone learning its habits and personalities. When I'm on the road, I make sure to stop by Apple stores for more; I'm well known in four states for hugging helpful associates. But the honest truth is I'm not sure what language my Apple screens are speaking today. I remember getting a minor in French in college, but it doesn't sound like French.

Mom tells me one day my prince charming will come. I hope she's right.

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