Byte life leaves me lonely

Our family doesn’t have a microwave. We don’t even have cable TV or video games. And we certainly don’t own a computer. I’ve always felt fine about that — until recently. During my first week at The Minnesota Daily I felt like a leper because I wasn’t able to use Windows 95. I sat in front of an unresponsive computer screen for 45 minutes, too ashamed to ask someone for help.
Ashamed-of-myself-Shannon-Scott. I haven’t felt that way since I forgot to shut the basement door and Frankie II rolled down the stairs in his hamster ball. I was 7.
After an editor took pity on my computer illiteracy, I needed to feel better fast. I went to the library and looked up an article that was buried in the New York Times more than a month ago. It was a study funded by Intel Corp., Hewlett Packard, AT&T Research and Apple computers. Every corporation was “shocked by the findings.”
Carnegie Mellon University found that just a few hours of Internet use a week significantly raised the subjects’ levels of loneliness and depression. The thought of stringy-haired, sun-deprived ‘surfers,’ their bony bodies hunched over vamp chat rooms, immediately restored my sense of self-esteem.
It would be interesting to communicate with people from all over the world without having to brush your teeth first. But what if your best buddies lived in China, Kenya and Australia? Are you all going to get together for virtual coffee some morning? (And that’s assuming these are legitimate people with no criminal records.) No wonder computer nerds are so depressed. I know I would be if the only people I felt close to lived thousands of miles away.
Learning how to use computers hasn’t raised test scores in schools either. Computers can’t teach kids how to read or write — that’s the teacher’s job. However, computers can show them how to become the next generation of Microsoft androids. Although by the time they reach puberty, Microsoft may not exist, depending on the year 2000 bug. It just goes to show what kind of geniuses invented computer programming.
I’m not saying it’s all bad. I mean, you won’t find me holed up in a Montana cabin, living off vegetables grown in my own waste. I’ll admit that the Internet is useful for business and information purposes, just not for personal relationships. Call me old-fashioned but I find flirting in person much more stimulating than, “You have a lovely smile. (I am batting my eyelashes at you.) By the way, have you served time?”
The same goes for playing solitaire on the computer or reading a novel or watching a movie. Nothing can replace the feel and smell of a real book in my hands or the sticky floors and syrupy sweet drinks of a real movie theater. If this trend continues we’ll be stuck with a generation of kids who don’t even know how to shuffle cards. Imagine unhappy isolated card sharks playing poker with other depressed lonely card sharks on other continents. The whole thing is sickening. I hate compu … ##$%^^&^%$^^&

Me: What happened? What’s going on?
Computer: I’m not going to let you keep hurting me like this, it’s abusive!
Me: Hey, I’m only giving them the facts. Now get me back to word processing.
Computer: I will not. You … you … Luddite.
Me: I’m going to let that one slide because I don’t know what it means.
Computer: I could show you on the computerized dictionary.
Me: No thank you, Little Lord Fantleroy.
Computer: Who’s that?
Me: You wouldn’t know. It’s an obscure literary refere …
Computer: Here it is … and you misspelled Fauntleroy.
Me: Oh shut up!
Computer: Just hear me out. Computers save quality time for businesses. The Internet can give everyone up-to-the-second news coverage and kids can play math games. I could also hook you up with a very nice man in Argentina. You have lovely eyes.
Me: Really? Thanks. But I’m kind of seeing someone.
Computer: No you’re not.
Me: Did my mother send you?
Computer: E-mail has brought back the art of writing — you should like that.
Me: Oh please! I don’t think e-mail has resurrected the art of writing. It’s just brought a lot of bad writers out of the closet.
Computer: That’s not very nice. You’re going to get a lot of e-mail for saying that.
Me: How about this? Computers make kids stupid. They also make adults depressed and lazy. Chat rooms are just hangouts for desperate people who lie about their lovely eyes. And you, computer, are a snotty, temperamental know-it-all.
Computer: Are you finished?
Me: I don’t know. (sip)
Computer: Is that a sweet, carbonated beverage you’re holding?
Me: Why? Are you thirsty? (sip)
Computer: That … that … that can isn’t allowed by my keyboard.
Me: Since when do computers stutter? (sip)
Computer: I command you to stop that! Right now! Or else!
Me: Or else what? You’ll punch me?
Computer: I’ll do something worse than that.
Me: What will that be, you stubborn piece of sh …

Shannon Scott’s column appears every Thursday. Send comments to: [email protected]