The Information Superhighway, by Bonnie McCafferty

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BY BONNIE MCCAFFERTY

When President Clinton first talked about creating the most extensive computer network imaginable, a nationwide superhighway of information and database opportunities, I saw myself poised on the entrance ramp, vroooming my megahertz, watching zillions of megabytes flying by me.

For years my computer literacy extended no further than my knowledge of electricity-up is on, down is off. And for the same number of years, I’d make futile resolutions to master my machine. Nothing frustrated me more than having a know-it-all piece of equipment that silently taunted me-”I know more than you do, nyah, nyah, nyah.” And nothing could reduce me to tears faster than my computer when it broke down at a critical moment when I was facing a deadline.

Predictably, two weeks ago when I had a deadline to meet, I turned on the computer and two critical components failed to work – the mouse and the monitor. I called in Badman Trouble, aka the Mouse Terminator, aka My Cat, who pounced on the computer mouse and threw it around the room a few times, but it remained unmotivated to run.

I thought about my deadline. I thought about crying. But the evil machine had pushed me too far this time – too far for tears, too far for ranting in frustration, too far for another fix-it check. I looked my computer straight in the disk drive, my eyes narrowed and my voice turned to steel.

I went straight to the store and bought a computer that gives new meaning to user-friendly. It talks to me, plays music for me, gives me tips for the day. It practically wiggles when I turn it on.

With the new computer, my life changed. Suddenly I was no longer idling on the entrance ramp to the information superhighway. I was in the fast lane, flooring a supercharged 486 with dual-exhaust and purple neon running lights, speeding through software and having more fun than I could stand.

Then I discovered people in my computer.

I had heard about them, but I had never been able to find them before. Then there they were-all I had to do was type in my area of interest-writing-and all these other writers would join me on-screen to talk about it. Wow. A high-tech version of the Algonquin Roundtable! I was so excited I couldn’t stand it. I could leave electronic mail messages for Maya Angelou and Ellen Gilchrist.

The big moment came, and I logged on to a writers conference, nervous and not having a clue what to expect. Would I be able to be clever and witty with these strangers? Would I be able to share my experiences, my doubts, my fears, my dreams as a writer? Yeah, right. About 10 people already had logged on when I did, and THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER. THEN THEY TALKED ABOUT THEIR PETS AND THEN THEY TALKED ABOUT THE WEATHER AGAIN.

A woman excused herself to answer the phone. BRB, she said-computer-talk for “Be right back.” When she came back, she wanted to know if she had missed anything.

“No,” I screamed at her. “You didn’t miss anything because this is a computer cocktail party. Nothing is going on here but mind-numbing chitchat.” James D., which I’m sure stands for “dust-for-brains,” wanted us all to know that he had never seen more than 6 inches of snow before the deep stuff we experienced earlier this year. Susan W. said she couldn’t think of anything to have for dinner. Are you people crazy? Dorothy Parker would have had a more interesting conversation with her DOG. Goodbye, NCB-as in “Not coming back.”



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