Thursday, August 12, 2010

We Are Borg?

Today I am going to take a detour. I am sitting in my public library at a terminal with a little clock at the bottom telling me how many of my 60 minutes are left. When that time is up, the computer will unceremoniously and without warning reboot.

So, this will be a speed of lightening post, racing against the clock. There may be fewer links than usual as a result, for which I apologize in advance. And perhaps a few uncaught typos.

You see, late yesterday my computer suffered a psychotic break. It had been sending me discreet signals for a few weeks that it was under stress, in the form of "You Need a New Battery" messages, which should not be true, given the fact that it is a new laptop and I faithfully power down the battery on a regular basis.

Suddenly, yesterday, the computer went psychedelic. It went into an LSD inspired trip of blue swoops and circles, lime green, orange swirls, blurred edges and flashing that would set off seizures in someone prone to react badly to flashing lights. Amazing colors ......

My first reaction (after the moment of shock and awe) was to make a grab for my external drive and initiate an immediate backup. If I were to lose the last week's worth of work...shudder the thought. While the backup was in progress, I called the manufacturer (the computer is under warranty) and we confirmed together that indeed, the motherboard was on its way out.

Backup completed (phew), service call completed (new motherboard on the way), I started to come to the realization that I was CUT OFF! I had my files, but my old computer was not only unable to read them, but was so slow that I could run a full load of laundry waiting for it to boot up.

The momentous nature of the problem set in rapidly. I couldn't do my research! I couldn't do my writing! How was I to read the New York Times or the BBC or listen to National Public Radio! Nor could I connect with my friends on Facebook! I couldn't pay my bills! I couldn't look up the location of...anything. I couldn't make social plans for the weekend! AAAA!

I realized I had two choices. Choice 1. Sit in front of my psychedelic computer, pretend it was 1968 and I was participating in the Summer of Love. Choice 2. Go to yoga. I chose option 2. Waiting outside the studio with my yoga teacher, I said I felt like I had had my arms cut off. This is when I started to think about just how interconnected everything is to computing.

Spending the next hour and a half mostly upside down put things into a different perspective. Perhaps a lot of blood rushing to the head caused a realignment of my vision. In any event, I thought about the 80s show Star Trek: Next Generation and The Borg - a collective of human-machine "objects" that together constituted one entity. There was no individual, and, for those who remember (probably most readers of a certain age), when a physical object (i.e. former human) was severed from the greater Borg Collective, they went into total confusion, panic, inability to function and were fearful. All they wanted was to be reconnected as soon as possible.

With some amusement and just a bit of serious thought I wondered "Am I Borg?". Computing systems are SO integrated into our lives that for a few moments I felt functionless! But after the aforementioned upside-downness I remembered. Oh... I can pay my bills. I must have a checkbook somewhere. And there was that thing called a telephone . Yes, I could function. I could read something hard copy related to my work. So this morning I spent several hours ensconced with a latte in my local coffee shop reading "Principles of Health Interoperability HL7 and SNOMED" (Benson 2010). Fascinating actually, but a story for another day. The little clock on the library computer is ticking its way down.

What this little episode of motherboard demise is reminding me is just how  interconnected we are to computer systems, how much we depend upon them. And by the way I LOVE my public library system. I was a big fan before, but now I am an even bigger fan. I look around and I see that virtually every terminal is occupied. So in addition to the wonderful access to books for free, they provide access to computers to those that might not have access otherwise. Or those whose computers decide to go on an extended holiday. In the future I will pay more attention to my extension-of-self's physical manifestations of stress, should it have any, and not wait until it screams out at me in living color and keels over.

With all of this interdependence, intertwining of computing with everything, there is so much opportunity to be creative and put them to good use. Uh oh....the little clock tells me that shortly I will be severed from my tenous connection to the Collective. Maybe I should take advantage of this, view it as an opportunity and go to the beach?

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