OK Computer?

I know a lot of people who don’t like computers. I’ll say, “I’m an editor at Macworld magazine,” and I get a blank look instead of the looks of envy I get from a lot of other folks. In those instances, the response is usually, “Oh, like with computers?” And that’s when the conversation then comes to an end because the person I’m talking to just isn’t interested in computers at all.

This interaction surprises me every time it happens. I’m simply amazed to find that a lot of people my age, who grew up with computers, aren’t interested in them. They just don’t have good feelings when they think about computers. How could this be?

Now, I don’t expect that everyone should learn to watch TV using iChat AV and love using their computers more than they like talking to humans. But I’m willing to bet that when most people think of computer or get near a computer, they have one of two emotions: repulsion or indifference. Or maybe hatred.

According to a 1999 study, 84 percent of help-desk managers surveyed said that users admitted to engaging in “violent and abusive” behavior toward computers (as mentioned in “Toward computers that recognize and respond to user emotion” by R.W. Picard of the MIT Media Library).

Now I actually feel happy when I use a computer. I could be doing the most horribly tedious task, but using my Mac puts me in a good mood.

And I’ve also noticed that when I must use Windows, my affect is decidedly “frustration,” and not for a lack of knowing how to use the thing. For the last 7 months, I’ve had to be a part-time Windows XP user after never having used Windows on a regular basis. Ever. (Do I sense an affect of envy?) And I noticed today that something is happening I thought would never, ever happen: I am starting to dislike computers. They are hard to use! They misbehave! They crash at least once a day and their error messages are completely illogical and incomprehensible. And what is this update that it wants me to download? I barely want to touch the settings, let alone (gasp!) tweak settings and get my fingers into its guts.

So maybe we generalize far too much. Maybe it’s not just computers that people don’t like. Maybe it’s Windows. And the sad fact is that so many people are “raised” on Windows. They learn to equate “Windows” with “computers” and never even consider that they could enjoy using a computer.

Then there’s me. I was raised on the Mac. My mom worked at Apple as I was growing up. I have been using the Mac since I was just a wee thing (age 9), and I’ve been able to wriggle my way out of using Windows in jobs because I can support my own Mac. (And I enjoy working a lot more because of it.) So fine, I admit it—I drank the Kool-Aid, and boy did it taste good. (Come to think of it, doesn’t the big Kool-Aid pitcher man look kind of like OS X, all liquidy and smiling?) I’m not afraid of computers and I sure didn’t mind the idea of learning to use Windows—until I actually learned it and came to understand how little I actually wanted to know.

But maybe that’s a key to the puzzle too. If more of us used current Macs (not the old, slow things I found in my school computer lab) as our first computers, and every day in our jobs, would we collectively like computers more?

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