Computer nerds get their revenge

March 13, 1995|By KEVIN COWHERD

Since I had not experienced feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness in quite a while, I decided to go shopping recently for a new computer.

Like dogs, the people who work in computer stores will automatically gravitate to the person who fears them the most.

Therefore, it was no surprise that as soon as I walked through the door, a geeky-looking guy in his early 20s attached himself to me. He wore a button with a smily face that said: "Here to answer all your computer questions!"

His name tag said he was Jay. Jay was frail, pallid, swaybacked and weighed about 125 pounds. And of course I was incredibly afraid of him.

Just looking at his enormous forehead, I could feel the knowledge pulsating below the surface. If the average human brain has, say, 50 billion neurons, this guy's neuron count was off the charts.

Just try me, Jay seemed to be saying. No, I wanted no part of this guy.

If you're a total technophobe like me, the first thing they ask you in these stores is: What do you want to do with the computer?

Then as soon as you tell them what you want to do with it, they tell you all the things you could do with it, if you weren't so stupid.

"I just want to write with it," I told Jay.

"What about spreadsheets?" he said.

"No, I just want to write with it."

"What about managing your family's finances?"

"No, I just want to write with it."

"What about programs that teach your kids?"

"No, I just want to write with it."

"I hate you!" Jay said finally. "You're an evil man."

Of course, I said nothing at all, as I was still very afraid of Jay.

The intelligence that he radiated was almost palpable, like standing in front of a hot oven.

My God, the man's brain stem must be as thick as a pumpkin's, I thought. His cerebral cortex must be the size of a toaster.

No, you don't mess with these people. These people can hurt you in ways you can't even imagine.

Anyway, what followed at this point was a long and involved discussion about all the features in the new computers.

OK, I say discussion. But the truth is, Jay was the only one talking.

He launched into a long, rambling soliloquy in which terms such as 8 megabytes of RAM and 250 megabytes of hard drive and CD-ROM and modems and ink jet printers filled the air, and of course my eyes glazed over instantly.

At one point, I must have actually dozed off. Because the next thing I knew, my head had banged down against one of the monitors and Jay was shaking me and saying: "Hey, man, you can't sleep here!"

Still groggy, I lurched into a rack of software, which is when Jay asked: "What kind of computer are you using now?"

When I mentioned it was an old 286, Jay threw himself to the floor and began laughing hysterically.

Then he called a few other employees over, saying: "C'mere, you gotta hear this!"

"This guy's still using a 286!" Jay said, and now all the others were pointing and laughing, too.

At this point, I have to admit I got a little defensive.

"It . . . it still works fine!" I said, although by now everyone was laughing so hard that I don't think they heard me.

People were slumped over boxes of printer paper, pounding each other on the back, some with tears streaming down their faces.

By now, of course, my fear level was approaching that of pure panic.

Sure, all these computer nerds with their enormous foreheads and complicated cerebrums and nerve cell fibers were enjoying themselves now.

But who knew how long that would last?

And then their mood would turn ugly and they'd begin hurling insults ("A 286? That's one step above a crayon!") and peppering me with hostile questions.

This is how it goes with people who have highly evolved association cortexes, which analyze, process and store information. I'd seen it a thousand times.

Slowly, I backed away, the way you would from a large, unfamiliar dog.

They were still yukking it up pretty good and didn't seem to notice, so I just kept going out the door.

Anyway, I'm still using the old 286. Sure, the screen tends to go blank every now and again, and I lose entire blocks of copy. But you go with the flow. That's what I'm all about.

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