Married to the Motherboard

So here I am typing in openoffice about to publish the first story to my blog. It was a little hard to decide how to do this, however. Should I pre-prepare (a word I have made up and like) or should I write directly into some sort of web based form? I think after the heart crushing sickness of losing work typed into web based forms coupled with the usual terrible results produced by may lazy English have prompted me to use a word processor at first. Perhaps I can weed out the terrible mistakes before presenting to the world? That’s an exercise for the reader.

It’s interesting (for the geeky amongst us) that neither the word ‘blog’ or ‘geeky’ are listed in the openoffice English dictionary. Neither is ‘openoffice’ to be honest, so the programmers must just be idiots. Of course, ‘blog’ is not in fact something squishy and nasty like the images that appear in my head when the word is uttered. Web and log are the contributing words to the contraction as wikipedia (another unknown word) points out. So what the hell is going on? Oh yes, well even the geeky among you are probably bored by now and are wondering, like me, what’s the point of all this drivel? I suppose I’m struggling to admit my sad realisation that over the years I have become virtually married to computers.

We had a BBC micro in my home from not long after I was born. My teenage years were lost to an Amiga 500. As a university student I got hold of a Compaq PC and a rebuilt IBM machine that I proudly got my first 56k internet connection working on. I have assembled two PCs from parts for personal use – I have built one for work. That machine had my first Linux distribution on it, and a Gentoo one at that. I have since rebuilt my dad’s clapped out laptop and brought it back to life with a version of Zenwalk Linux. It reads like a list of girlfriends and at many times in my life I have treated these machines as my closest companions. And now I have accepted other peoples machines too in the form of the internet. Yet, these relationships are not the same.

I am not an avid reader, I know this. I know I would look for almost anything as a child that was not a book. I was ‘hyperactive’. I wanted to be on the move. I wanted stimulation and quickly and had not the patience for literature or the efforts involved in its discovery. So the machines provided a perfect companion. I was programming by the time I was 10. The BBC BASIC manual was as much as I was willing to read and could be approached on a section by section basis. I had no imagination as a teenager so I stopped programming and took to gaming. My favourite games were and are still strategic. Driven by the desire to learn and defeat the opponent I removed the reliance on skill to focus on reasoning and deduction. The games would reward me quickly and when they didn’t I just loaded another. These were cold relationships. The thrill was in the learning. The winning led to disappointment. I could learn no more or the marginal thrills were not worth the stresses.

Looking back, the machines were never a cure for loneliness. Would I have been more or less lonely without the machines, however? I don’t know. Having spent my teenage years in a small village, my attempts at interaction were difficult, but perhaps it was just easier to sit stare at the machine all night, score a goal, torpedo a ship than spend time working on a new friendship. Would the internet have changed this for me? Would I have been more popular, happier?

I consider myself one of the first ‘mainstream’ users of the internet. I came at it from a purely superficial point of view at the start of my university career. I was surrounded by people that had used it for years before I. These were the IRC users, the LAN-partyists, the uber geeks. There was I with ICQ, (WTF? <- thanks Lucy, it’s a messenger service) an email address and the internet at hand. What a thrill! I got involved in a student web forum. I started to hunt out the email addresses of my friends and those I wanted to be friends with. This could revolutionise my life. But why? Why would people who would not give you the time of day face to face choose to interact with you over an internet connection?

Who do we become when we are connected to the machine? The people we wish we were, perhaps? I don’t lie or intentionally mislead, but do I really reveal an accurate representation of me? Can I provide any answers? Well, I was not normally as open or as chatty in real life but on the internet I could circumvent the fear that caused this. On the net I can say ‘hi’ to whoever I choose and say whatever I wish whenever I choose. In real life I have been the boy in the room who hides in the corner waiting, hoping to be engaged. Yet, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be able to easily approach people. To dazzle with charm and delight with a witty anecdote or two. However, the crazy thing about the internet is its parity with real life, the total opposite of my previous sterile experience with computers. The put downs, the disappointments, the bigotry and naivety. It’s as prevalent on the web as anywhere else. Possibly more so. And it doesn’t matter what site you go to, it’s still there. I’m left with the realisation that it’s not really me that changes but instead I imagine the internet as a place where everyone else will be different.

Throughout the years I have learnt some lessons to deal with other peoples’ reactions to me away from the internet and have tempered some of my own, more suspicious, habits as a result, but the internet will always be a fantastic new world in my mind, without hate or prejudice. That race of people I’ve tried so hard to find all my life. Yet I know now the net’s make-up. The net is powered by the same human race as the non-digital world and each connection is a unique individual among it. Some you will like. Some you will hate. Some may even like you. Some will be honest and some will lie. I have met far fewer genuine friends on the net than in real life, although they are not any less cherished.

As I approach thirty I hope that my love affair with the machine is now over. The question is, can we maintain a happy friendship throughout the coming years? I know computers will always be a draw for me so now I want to change the way I use them. I wish to harness the obsession and use it for positive means. Thus, here I am starting my blog. I shall now flex those intellectual muscles that I like to boast about. I shall use the internet to have a go at something that perhaps I’ve found a talent for.

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