Computer Troubles: Columns from the Whitstable Times

1984 and all that

I’m very worried about my computer. It’s been doing some very odd things of late. I tell it to do one thing and it does something else. It’s like a recalcitrant teenager throwing a permanent paddy, stamping its foot and going off in a virtual sulk.

You’ve heard about Artificial Intelligence? My computer already seems to have developed a version of it. Not Artificial Intelligence, exactly, more like Artificial Attitude.

It has a mind of its own, and is showing definite signs of wilful behaviour. I’m expecting to come home any day now to find it hanging out on the street with its mates, wearing a hoody and drinking White Lightning cider while intimidating the old people.

First of all it was a problem with my e-mail. Every time I sent a note to my editor it would come bouncing back to me with a cryptic message attached.

“Host or domain name not found,” it said. “Name service error. Host name does not exist.”

How very peculiar.

It seems that there is no such place as the Whitstable Times . The Whitstable Times does not exist. That, at least, is what my computer appeared to be telling me.

Or, looking at it another way: if the Times’ offices no longer acknowledge my messages and their computer system refuses to respond to me, maybe it’s me who doesn’t exist. Whoever it is sitting on this chair in front of this computer must be an impostor. It’s not really me at all.

My last column was not delivered by e-mail. It was delivered by hand to the Times office in Whitstable, then delivered by courier to Canterbury, and then typed by hand into the computer terminal there: the old-fashioned way.

It’s amazing how fast this technology has developed.

When I first started writing for the newspapers - just over thirteen years ago now - I would write on an old Amstrad, print it off, and then send the printed copy by post a few days before the deadline.

Occasionally I would send a fax.

There may have been internet access at the time, but only a few computer nerds had it. The web did not even exist.

These days many of us spend large portions of our spare time “surfing the net“ and most correspondence is done by e-mail..

No one sends letters any more. I know how few genuine hand-written letters actually travel by post (or by snail-mail, as the computer buffs call it): no more than one in a hundred, I would guess, and most of those are pre-printed Christmas or Birthday cards, in which only a signature and a brief message is required.

Pretty soon we will have forgotten how to write.

This is a very worrying prospect, not least when you discover how dependent we have become on the technology, and how little control we have when things go wrong.

Computers have invaded every aspect of our lives. Even our language has changed. Once upon a time memory was something that human beings had, not machines, applications were for jobs, programmes appeared on TV, cursors used bad language, webs were what spiders wove, a virus meant a week in bed and a hard drive was eight hours behind the wheel.

As for your three inch floppy, that was something best kept to yourself.

Google

Actually I suspect it might be something I’ve been doing. I have a deep visceral suspicion of Google. Every time Google attempts to update itself I refuse it permission. My logic is that I don’t want some company knowing what I am doing all the time, analysing my keystrokes, following my various meanderings around the internet chasing up obscure tracts and then saving them on my computer for future reference.

I told the nice technician down at the local computer shop what I’d been doing.

“But Google are a reputable company,” he said, looking slightly perplexed.

Fair enough. Right now Google might appear to be a reputable company. They are only tracking our every keystroke in order to optimise customer service and performance.

Or so they claim. But what happens next? Will they be taking samples of our DNA in order to customise our computers to anticipate our every need according to our genetic programming? Will they be wanting to plant microchips in our brains to keep a track on our thoughts? Will I wake up one day to find a cloned version of myself sitting at my own computer, while I’m dragged off to the council recycling dump to be turned into Soylent Green?

That nice techie has obviously never read 1984 , or he’d know what will happen when the evil fascist government finally takes over and our computers are used to spy on us. He can’t have seen Peter Cushing playing Winston Smith in the central role on TV and having his head stuck into a cage full of rats in Room 101.

Actually, George Orwell seems to have got a number of things right.

Britain is indeed Airport One for the American Empire, as he predicted: we are permanently at war, the government is adept at double-speak and we have a Ministry of Truth telling us lies and a Ministry of Peace selling us war. And if it’s not exactly Big Brother watching over us, it’s Google, and meanwhile we are all watching Big Brother.

Is this a case of life imitating art or the other way round?

I can’t quite get over the sensation that were now living in the plot of some scary science-fiction TV play from the fifties.

Sitting here in front of my computer all day doesn’t help. Maybe I should get out more.

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Comments 16 comments

pgrundy 7 years ago

Have you seen "The Matrix"? The first time I saw it, afterwards I said, wow, this is a story about how things actually are, right now. They've just pumped up ordinary modern life with special effects and some nice black leather and an annoyingly vague bald Yoda-type black guy spouting annoyingly vague Yoda-like quasi-religious drivel, but honestly, this is pretty much just my day to day life. I went with my kids, who hated it and told me I was nuts, but that's what they always tell me so it didn't really hurt my feelings or anything.

Between computers and cell phones, if someone/something wanted to know our every move they could. That's really creepy.

Good hub, thanks. I think. I mean it's all pretty disturbing actually.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Pam, yes I've seen the Matrix, and loved it too, and thought, "wow, this is now they are describing." Or rather: "this is an allegory of now." And I liked the annoyingly bald Yoda-type too, personally speaking. Morpheus, isn't it? His best line is, "Welcome to the desert of the real," which, while it means absolutely nothing at all sure sounds profound. We certainly do seem to be moving into some kind of weird movie script right now though don't we? The only question is, will it have a happy ending or not?


pgrundy 7 years ago

I'm kind of a smart ass, so Morpheus got on my nerves, but I agree it feels lately like we're in some dystopian sci-fi flick. I don't know what it's like day to day over there, but here in the U.S. I worry about fascism every single day, and I'm not normally all that paranoid. Spectators at McCain rallies are shouting out "Kill him!" and "Traitor!" when McCain challenges Obama's character and its allowed to continue. The RNC defends it as a legitimate issue, but come on, "Kill him!"??? Have they completely lost their minds? You should've seen the security at the conventions--it looked like scenes from "Storm Troopers". State cops were strip searching Green Party protestors who were quarantined half a mile from the stadiums--it was purely for intimidation--they couldn't get anywhere near the political activities. But right in the open the RNC and Palin and McCain get away with inciting to riot. And they defend their right to do it.

We just had a congresswoman on TV the other day calling for an investigation of all the members of the Senate and Congress on the topic of whether they are for or against America. What does that mean? For or against America? You should've seen this woman--she was creepy. She looked for all the world like one of the Stepford wives, and through the whole interview she had that dazed look and inappropriate constant smile--big hair, red lipstick, freaky eyes and inappropriate grinning, like a realtor gone bad or something, Miss America with an assault rifle, I don't know---it's getting too freakin' weird over here, I mean it.

I'm not the only one who is alarmed. It's on the news a lot. Still, it's damned scary.

Maybe I'll write about this. It'll irritate Shadesbreath, but I want to put that video of Congresswoman Fembot up for people who missed that. Creepy.


ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

This too shall pass...

CJ, Pam,  it's all over but the shouting and there will be a lot of that.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

You should write that hub Pam.

I think it's still relatively sane here, but we're a small country and don't matter any more (except when providing fig-levaes for American military intervention. But then, who am I to say what's sane and what is not? I think it was Krishnamurti (or someone like that) who said it was no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick wosiety. So maybe that's what I am, just sickly well-adjusted. I still rate Morpheus myself. Sometime a little gobbledegook does you good.


Laila Rajaratnam profile image

Laila Rajaratnam 7 years ago from India

Thanks.A good contemporary hub.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Have a look at this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itEucdhf4Us

Subject matter of my friend Andre's current blog here:

http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog....

I like Morpheus too BTW!


pgrundy 7 years ago

Steve, that's really disturbing but typical. American politics has devolved into name calling and hate mail. I agree with your friend's blog on one point--it is like watching the walking dead. It's like some freakin' zombie movie.

I make a little money writing for an economics blog every week. I get hate mail there. When I write on political topics at HubPages I get hate mail. Apparently a very loud group of people here in the U.S. think that Jimmy Carter let some poor folks buy houses and it broke the entire financial system.

What especially sickened me in this video were the people shouting "Get a job." Since when is being involved in the political process evidence that you don't have a job, and since when is having a job evidence that you are doing something worthwhile?

Clearly the people shouting that have never worked in a call center.

Thanks for the clip and the link.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

That's scary Steve.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Cj

I'm meant to be commenting on your hub, but instead I clicked Steve's youtube link. I haven't seen such polarised public opinion, and general irrational name-calling since the picket lines outside the Brighton Centre during the Tory party conference in the early eighties.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

The link I left for Andre at the bottom is equally scary:

http://www.pennypresslv.com/Obama%27s_Use_of_Hidde...


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

No Steve, that's not scary: that scare-mongering. That whole document is a case of name-calling on a grand scale. It's a hoax. Personally I intend to reserve my judgement on Obama entirely and see what he actually does when - if - he gets into office.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Well, Chris, Dylan is in support of him but I'll chose to listen to Rayelan Allan who sent me that! If it's a "hoax" as you say what is the power he exerts over the people? And equally what is the power any of the other candidates have? They have none over me and that's not because I'm not an American - I wouldn't vote for any of them if I could including Hilary even though Guru Rasa is supporting her! I believe the whole lot are liars and not to be trusted.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 7 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Steve it's called rhetoric and all public speakers use a form of it. Obama is just a very skilled public speaker that's all. There's nothing sinister about it.


pgrundy 7 years ago

I actually think that, in this country at least, each person has a responsibility to descend into the muck and make a decision regarding the least bad of all the candidates offered. I actually like Obama quite a lot and don't find anything about him very scary. He comes from the same part of the country I do, (less than 90 miles from where I grew up), from a very similar working class background, and I find him refreshingly calm and rational. I'm also inspired by his success since our upbringings and backgrounds are so similar.

I remember reading a book in the seventies called "The Strawberry Statement" about the student anti-war protests. The author said he basically agreed with the statement, "Never trust anyone over 30," except he would drop the zero.

well, I would drop the 3. But I still basically like people, warts, lies, and all.

Might as well, I am one.


kathryn1000 profile image

kathryn1000 5 years ago from London

Very droll and true too.Now you've got me worried!

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