Tech Slave

I've been working on an extra project at work, something that challenges me and will lead to a better understanding of some of the things my company creates. It hasn't been a massive amount of extra work, but time spent on it naturally forces other things to wait. Instead of being a little bit ahead on my latest regular assignment, as I like to be, I'm precisely on time, too close to the borderline of running late for my tastes. Worse, I'll need to take a day off in the middle of next week to play in an Italian feast. Trying to stay on top of things, and anticipating the day I'll be losing, I opted to work an extra hour on Monday night.

Now that I've been going to the gym every night, I'm back to my old schedule of getting home around 8 PM. The sooner I get done with work, the longer I exercise. The later I work, the shorter I work out. I do miss DVD double features, chatting with friends online, and other things I filled my evening with when I got home earlier, but I've gotten accustomed to this new routine, which is technically the return of an old one I'd abandoned for the last ten months. I've thus far been fortunate with my workload and pacing, and the company has provided enough to challenge me, but never more than I could handle as I've learned the ropes.

No matter where I've worked, I've always suffered from a “one more thing” syndrome. It actually extends to recreation as well as labor. One more game becomes two more games. Reading one more blog becomes two more blogs. One more episode of Stargate Atlantis becomes two more episodes. Suddenly it's 2 AM and I'm maintaining a sleep debt. At work when I'm busy, I sometimes find myself cutting in to my lunch hour. One more page becomes two, and suddenly I don't have as much time to eat. In both my personal and professional lives, I'm a slave to my computer. Even if someone stops by to call me in to a meeting or to come answer a technical question, my fingers are still on the keyboard as I'm standing up, finishing something that could easily wait the four or five minutes I'd be away.

On Monday night, it was my computer that decided it had enough, when I encountered the dreaded ”rainbow wheel of death”. I decided to navigate to my desktop to see when I'd last saved the file I was working on. Sometimes, the computer breaks out of its thinking mode and I regain control. So I never want to be hasty in force quitting an application and losing unsaved changes. Of course, even my desktop got caught in whatever loop was slowing my machine down. I couldn't click any icons.

I tabbed through programs, quitting the ones I could to free up memory. I hit the key sequence to bring up the force quit menu but nothing happened for a few minutes. I watched 6 PM become 6:10 and then 6:15, growing more and more frustrated. I banged my head on the desk. I wanted to leave, but invisible shackles held me in place. All I wanted to do was shut down, and the computer wouldn't even allow me to do that.

Finally the folders on my desktop displayed, and I saw that the file I was working on had indeed been saved. The force quit menu finally came up and I clicked away with impunity and futility. More time passed, and finally it registered my request. The screen hung for a few minutes before the program shut down. Other open applications were less cooperative, and the rainbow wheel was multiplying. One stubborn program hung on when I just tried to shut down the machine, and I had to force quit that too. Finally, by 6:45, on the verge of tears, I was free.

Exercise and physical activity felt good after doing nothing but stare at a computer for about 45 minutes. It's one thing to stay late and be productive, getting caught up or getting ahead of the game. I hated the fact that I was ready to leave and the computer kept me. Those are completely wasted minutes of my life that I'll never, ever recover. As I get older and time appears to flow faster, I can't afford to waste minutes. I sometimes think about my first job out of college and the three machines I'd sometimes work simultaneously out of necessity, because they were so much slower back in the ‘90s. While I was waiting for one to print and another to scan, I could be designing on a third. How much more could I get done now with a fast backup machine when one was caught in a bad memory loop? On the other hand, how much more time could I lose if I had two machines restraining me?

It's strange how much these machines have taken over my life, from obsessing about work to obsessing about games. I've had friends and coworkers who tell me they won't turn on their computers at home over the weekend, or only use them to check e-mail. I checked my messages about three times in the course of writing this post. I don't know if I could go 24 hours without using a computer. Even in the Fall when lots of new shows are on television, I find myself retreating to my room on intermissions to surf the net. I'm sure there are people out there worse than me though; I've yet to obtain a Blackberry or other mobile device. Someday I'll probably be surfing at traffic lights.

There's a whole digital universe at my fingertips, and my mind travels places my body may never reach. It's good to unplug every once in a while, and as frustrating as it is when I want to but can't, it's equally frustrating when I'm unwillingly disconnected. Over the weekend an out of state gig will keep me away from my computer for at least 12 hours, and I can't help but wonder if that's a good thing. It will be nice to be FREE, if only for a day.


Post a Comment

<< Home