When Will Computers Be Finished?

One of the casting agencies emails me an application form in the Microsoft Word format. I usually open such things with the program Open Office, as I resent the assumption that one always has to buy expensive, world-dominating software like Word, so I try to use free alternatives like OO. Only thing is, Open Office mangles the application form. Lines are broken up, boxes are a mess, and lumps of text go strolling to different parts of the document where they frankly have no business to be.

I try another free alternative, Google Docs. This time the form looks perfect in the web browser, but when I print it out, some parts are missing. I go online and beg friends for help. They suggest Microsoft’s free alternative, Word Viewer, which I take time to download and install. But I still end up with formatting errors.

So I solve the matter by walking to the internet cafe in Archway Road. There, logging on to my mail and printing out the form using the cafe’s copy of Word 2007 takes mere minutes, as opposed the hours I wasted fiddling with the other programs.

Later, I actually realise I could have used the Word Viewer program after all: I just needed to download a separate ‘compatibility pack’ and install that. Oh, and I had to open up Internet Explorer and check for Microsoft Updates for the program too. And so it goes on. Upgrade, install, upgrade, install.

All of which reminds me how limited my patience is with computers, despite my reputation as a veteran blogger. What particularly vexes me is the constant need to keep up with owning and upgrading the right software and gadgets to properly interact with society.

There’s a comedian who has a routine about moving to London and being annoyed at the constant appearance of cranes, road works and building sites. ‘When will London be FINISHED?’ she wails.

That’s exactly how I feel about computers and software. And it reminds me how much I love paper books – the invention that requires no upgrade. Books never need compatibility patches or the right region player, or power or recharging. They just work.

I speak as no Luddite, however. I’ve had a Kindle e-book reader for several months now. It’s wonderful for reading when travelling, and I love the ability to resize fonts and check words in the built-in dictionary. But it can’t be signed by an author and can’t exist without being charged up (if only once a month). It also lacks the stand-alone nature of books, as well as their freedom from accidental file deletion and their irreplaceable aesthetic pleasure.  E-books won’t replace books just as paperbacks never replaced hardbacks. But computers will always frustrate. At least, they will with me.

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