Friday, August 10, 2012

Minds and Computers

I’ve long ago given up trying to figure out either my mind or my computer. People seem to be comparing the mind to computers and vice-versa all the time, and I guess I have to agree. Both seem to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, both can capriciously deny you access to information you know is there, somewhere, but you want and need immediately. And when I'm in one of my paranoid moods, I am quite convinced that they are deliberately conspiring against me.

My last computer, which I really did work to extremes, would frequently, suddenly, and for absolutely no reason I can see, decide to slow down. I would try to go from one place to another on the net (or even within the computer itself) and the screen I wanted to leave would just sit there, staring back at me, expressionless but obviously uncomprehending or uncaring—or, as I strongly suspect, comprehending but still not caring. And if I were in a particular hurry, it would simply lock up tighter than a drum, making it impossible for me to do anything at all, other than manually turn the computer off and switch it back on again. And wait. I hate waiting and have to fight to keep from thinking the computer knew it. I've not had that problem with my current computer...yet, but I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop

But my current computer is not without it's little ways of keeping me from getting too confident. The other day, I clicked on a photo to move it from the top of the screen to the bottom, dragged it halfway to where I wanted it, let my finger off the mouse for an instant, and it disappeared. Vanished, never to be seen again. It did not go back to where it was in the first place, it did not go into my overflowing “trash bin”, though that particular feature of my computer is so full of assorted junk I probably wouldn’t be able to find the photo even if it was there. And my mind works exactly the same way the computer does: I have an idea that I wish to make use of in another context, and somewhere between where I started and where I want to go, the idea vanishes, as does, usually, the thought I was trying to relate it to.

Though I must say, in defense of the computer, that were it as completely as unpredictable as my mind, it would be totally unusable. You’re familiar with those annoying Pop-Up ads that just appear when you’re doing something and you have to take the time and effort to click on the little “x” in the offending window to get rid of them? Well, my mind is one continual pop-up ad. I’m trying to think of how to describe, let’s say, a piece of furniture (don’t ask me why I might want to be describing a piece of furniture…just go with me here, okay?). The instant I start I think of a chair my mom had that her cat totally destroyed by peeing in it. Or I am writing a note to a friend telling him/her about something that happened today while I was walking to the grocery store and here comes a pop-up alerting me to the fact that the parking garage behind the store used to be a tennis court when I first lived in Chicago. A fascinating bit of trivia, but having nothing whatever to do with the grocery store or my walking to it today.

That I am able to fan and swat my way through these swarms of mental pop-ups is, I’m sure, admirable, but it is also infinitely frustrating. But they do provide me with ample subjects for blogs.

Obviously, the makers of computers had to have designed them using the brain as some sort of model, and increasingly obvious—and ominous,too—is the fact that more and more people rely more heavily on the computer for things the brain should do for itself. I refer you once again to E.M. Forster’s classic 1909 short (12,000 word) story, “The Machine Stops”, which you can find on Google.

And in that last paragraph we have a classic example of one of my mental pop-ups, and only goes to prove not only am I not the first person in the world to relate computers and the mind, but I’m 103 years behind E.M. Forster.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).


Kage Alan said...

But isn't that just following the same pattern by which we write?

...Dorien walked from the kitchen to the bedroom, ever on the lookout for that elusive hidden camera he was sure was hidden in the walls. Only it couldn't be hidden in the walls because the plaster the walls were made with were of a mixture unkind to being drilled in. Not only did it leave a very evident mess, but it also cracked and spread within a short couple of days. Anybody with any knowledge of this plaster would automatically know it didn't make for a solid hiding place. Maybe the wood floors...only this wood came from the jungles of...

You see?

Dorien/Roger said...

Are you SURE we aren't identical twins separated at birth (albeit 30 or so years apart)?