Sunday, February 11, 2007


By Al Stumph

The writing assignment was very simple. “In three paragraphs reflect on a hang up you have about the computer.”

Since I have been using various computers to compose for over 25 years, I believed I would have no problem finding a hang up to write about. But, I reflected, I like the computer as a writing tool so I don’t really have any hang ups about writing at it, except those occasional distractions that arise when I take a break and surf the net.

I do have hang ups, though, regarding computerized cash registers in supermarkets and the way manufacturers use computers in cars. When a mistake has been made at the supermarket checkout, no one can correct it without a “manager’s key.” Often the checkout person does not even know what the mistake was. It is just that the register has frozen up thereby bringing everything, and everyone, to a halt.

Computers in cars bother me because I used to be able to do simple engine repairs such as changing the oil or filters. Now I have no comprehension of what I see when I open the hood or what needs to be done when a “check engine” light comes on. And no mechanic is able to diagnose the problem without first attaching a diagnostic computer to the car. Maybe, as Andrei Codrescu implies, the virtual world of the computer demands so much information from us that we are permitting it to consume our relationship to the real world.

I decided to compose my three paragraphs for this assignment while covering my wife’s store during her absence. Often I fill in the time between serving customers with reading a book or writing at the computer. As I prepared to write my assignment I realized that if I sat at the office computer I would not be able to see the store entrance and watch for someone to enter. Usually, to overcome this problem, I would take the laptop and place it next to the cash register and work there. But Kathy had taken the laptop on her trip so it was not available. No problem, I would just write notes with pen and paper and transcribe them later on the home computer. I sat for two full working days with a pen on blank paper. After 25 years, I can no longer think in longhand.

Writer Al Stumph, of Chatham, New York, is a retired social worker and trainer whose specialty was adoption and foster care issues. During the 1960s, he was a Mariel priest working in Hong Kong. Today, he mows lawns, builds furniture and helps out with his wife Kathy's antique store, called "Welcome Home."

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