Survival Of The Smartest: Will Geeks Inherit The Earth?

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Media Coverage of Rapture For The Geeks:

Your User Profile

(Excerpted from Rapture For The Geeks, by Richard Dooling.)

User, noun. The word computer professionals use when they mean “idiot.” –Dave Barry

There are only two industries that refer to their customers as “users.” –Edward Tufte

It’s time to launch the web browser of your imagination and surf the undiscovered future of technology, but first a few questions to assist you in formulating your user profile.

Are you addicted to your computer? To the Internet? To e-mail? To your Treo, iPhone, or CrackBerry? To computer gaming? Or maybe to computer programming? Perhaps you’re not addicted (and you don’t overeat or drink too much or take drugs), maybe you just like to configure and personalize your favorite software, until it does just what you want it to do, just the way you want it done. Do you tweak the options and widgets and custom codes on your Blogspot or your WordPress weblog for hours on end, until your little corner of the Internet is “clean” and well-designed? Have you logged onto the MySpace at 2 A.M. asking, “Help! I can’t get my marquee scroll generator to work! How can I make my table backgrounds transparent, the border invisible, my photos appear to hover, and my hyperlinks underlined and 12-point Garamond?” Are you the type who customizes menus, macros, and toolbars for hours at a time, sometimes for more hours than you’ll ever spend actually doing the task you had in mind when you started the program?

Here’s the big question: Do you ever feel that you once used computers and computer programs as tools to get a specific job done, but lately you wonder if Dave Barry was onto something when he wrote: “I am not the only person who uses his computer mainly for the purpose of diddling with his computer.”

Then again, maybe you aren’t addicted to your computer. Maybe instead you hate your computer. But somehow, even though you detest the *&^%$@!# thing, you spend more time messing with it than your tech-loving, overclocking geek friend spends messing with his. Maybe you hate it even more when your tech-loving geek friend stops answering your user-in-distress emails, because then you wind up on the phone all evening with a woman in Bangalore, asking her how to make your spyware-hijacked Internet Explorer web browser stop loading the Play-Strip-Poker-With-Hot-Young-Co-Eds website before your wife gets home and wants to check her e-mail.

Does your handheld sometimes feel like a prosthetic device containing your own personalized sixth sense? Is it a brain extension, with an extra, palm-held visual cortex for displaying YouTube videos? When it’s gone, or broken, or not charging properly, are you bereft? Adrift? Are you a victim of what Harvard neuropyschiatrist Dr. John Ratey calls “self-inflicted acquired attention deficit disorder,” because you compulsively reach for the thing, even when you don’t want to? Were the editors of the New York Times talking about you and your gadgets when they observed (on iPhone day, 29 June 2007): “The real test of each new apparatus is how easily it is ingested and how quickly it becomes part of the user’s metabolism. All you have to do is watch a 9-year-old teaching her mother how to text to understand the truth of this.”

When you’re in a panic to make an appointment and you can’t find your car keys or your billfold or purse, do you instinctively begin formulating search terms you might use if the real world came with Google Desktop Search or a command line interface? Whoever created the infinite miracle we glibly call “The Universe” is surely at least as smart as the guys at Bell Labs and at UC Berkeley who made Unix. The Unix creators wisely included a program called “find,” which enables you to instantly find any file on your system, especially any file in your “home” directory. Another command called “grep” enables you to find any line of text in any file on your entire system. Mac OS X uses Spotlight to do essentially the same thing, with some spiffy visuals added; even Microsoft finally included “Instant Search” in Vista.

So why can’t the Creator of the Universe come up with a decent search box? Why can’t you summon a command line and search your real-world home for “Honda car keys,” and specify rooms in your house to search instead of folders or paths in your home directory? It’s a crippling design flaw in the real-world interface. And while we’re at it, how about an UNDO button? Wouldn’t that come in handy in the real world? Especially if you just totaled your car or contracted a venereal disease? Why can’t you just hit Ctrl-Z or click on the swirly little UNDO arrow icon and put everything back the way it was before? If only your mouth came with a backspace key.

If you have one of those days where all of life seems corrupted, broken, full of error messages and warnings, and the kids are all out somewhere performing illegal operations, buffer overruns, segmentation faults, and destabilizing the system. On those days, what you need is called: Real Life System Restore. Restore Your Life To Last Known Good Configuration?

Want to read more? Try Genesys: EULA For The Universe. Have fun!

(Excerpted from Rapture For The Geeks, by Richard Dooling.)

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Rapture For The Geeks
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