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I Want My Underwood Back

12 Jan

by Roger White

It has now happened with the computer, and I sit agog. I would stand agog, but I am old, ya know. Can one recline agog? Anyway, the once humble computer, originated as a simple means to an end, has mutated into an end unto itself. It has sprouted its own support system and rooted itself into our world as another new necessity of life as we know it.

Think about it. The first computers, understood and operated only by NASA brain surgeons (yes, they had to be rocket scientists and brain surgeons to be able to run these behemoths), were approximately the size of the Rose Bowl and could do things like add, subtract, and blink. That was about it. Nowadays, well, I can’t say because I’m being watched… (….)

And this is not without precedence. Take the automobile. It was created as a means to an end. Horses were slow, they got old and cranky, and you couldn’t make out in the back seat of a horse. So, man built the car. Faster transport, no flies in the street, dependable shelter for an attempt at second base.

The car’s purpose was merely more efficient, modern travel. Well . . . and sex.

Today much of the nation’s GNP is tied directly or indirectly to that one invention (the automobile, not sex; sex is high on the GNP list, too, but that’s a different column). I defy you to stroll two blocks in any city periphery without coming across an auto parts store, a car dealership, a gas station, a quickie-lube shop, or a car insurance billboard.

Got six DWIs? No problem. Call Happy Hank’s House of High-Risk!

We’ve nosed our way into wars over the stuff that keeps our cars going. Remember when Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” was actually a ballad commemorating youth? I counted the commercials, by the way, while watching a TV movie last week. If I were driven (sorry) to purchase one vehicle per auto ad in that two-hour segment, I would now be the proud owner of a fleet of 21 Texas-tough cars and trucks. It’s Truck Month again! Woo hoo! (Wasn’t it Truck Month last month?)

But I digress. You get the point.

Lo, it is now thus with the computer. That benign wonder born around the mid-20th century, while we were all placidly watching “Leave it to Beaver,” that curious gadget that eventually allowed us to stop sniffing white-out, has evolved into a daily necessity. Who goes one day without logging in?

When I wrote for my college newspaper (early Mesozoic, I believe it was), the computer was a word processor—not much more than typing without paper. Brand new on the scene. How quaint, and, yes, somewhat helpful. You could take it or leave it. The deep and wide box of a machine I used emitted a ghostly green glow that melted flesh after an hour or so.

Some folks, even as late as the ’80s, saw the computer as the domain of those who wear pocket protectors. “Hey, honey, Filbert down the street bought one of those home computers. What a nerd.”

Nowadays, these sleek machines are crammed so full of megabytes and RAMs and WiFi pixellators and modems and gizmatrons that practically every human function can be accomplished with a keystroke. “To floss, press Shift-Option-FL.”

And they’re getting smaller by the day. You can practically wear one now. Soon, they’ll be implanted under the skin. Computers are no longer merely aids to more efficient work; they’re an appendage. In fact, take a closer look at that growth under your left arm. That may not be a mole—could be a modem port.

And, oh, the children. Eaten alive, you know. The ratio of footballs to kids these days is something like 0.3 to 1. Some group did a study on that. I believe it was the American Football Artisans & Retailers of Texas (AFART). AFART is busy trying to figure out how to build a third of a football. It’s frightening. Our young’uns aren’t playing in the street, dodging cars and visiting emergency rooms like we did. Nay, they’re turning into fish-belly-colored, atrophied cyberscouts with heads like those guys who captured the original captain in the old “Star Trek” series. You remember? Those know-it-all silent aliens with the giant veins in their heads and with brains the size of medicine balls. The captain (Christopher Pike, mind you, not James T. Kirk) could hear what they were thinking because they were telepathic, and those damn aliens always had that superior, sour-cream-cheese look on their faces, like they were tolerating this puny human’s very existence. Oh, how I hated those guys. Only when Captain Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter, mind you, not William Shatner) was angry could he stop these melon-headed misanthropes from probing his mind.

That was a killer episode, no? Except Spock didn’t quite look right with that goofy haircut and terrycloth uniform.

Um, anyway. It’s an irreversible reality. You gotta have a computer now, or you’re simply not with it. “Hey, honey, did you hear? Marvin up the street doesn’t have a computer! What a nerd.”

I will concede that the possibilities are staggering. You can now connect with anyone in the world. You can tweet, you can google, you can bing, you can skype, you can surf, blog, browse, download, uplink, network, tag, text, byte, poke, ping, plug in, and do any and all manner of painful-sounding things to anybody this side of New Guinea. You can forge e-relationships that span the globe. You can transmit naughty photos to Ottawa. Likewise, ogres pretending to be Faceplant buddies can transmit naughty photos to you—or your kids.

Holy sh–

OK, concession withdrawn. I say pashaw. I want my old Underwood back. I guess this computer thing is even more like the automobile than I thought. Its purpose? More efficient, modern cybertravel. Well . . . and sex.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit