Computers and government: What’s the best thing to do when they don’t seem to be working properly?
I think of technology and the government pretty much the same way I think about my teeth, which is to say they rarely enter my consciousness until they start to bother me. Then I can’t stop thinking about them, the same way you can’t stop thinking about a toothache.
Yes, I’ve been having computer problems. And yes, I am worried about the future of American politics. I’m willing to blame the Russians for both, although I don’t think assigning blame will help.
What genuinely worries me most is that my twinned concern over technology and politics is starting to blur into one big cavity of fear.
When my computer doesn’t work, I panic. I react the way Gene Wilder does in “The Producers” when Zero Mostel inadvertently frightens him: I become hysterical. It’s not appropriate, it’s not reasonable and it’s certainly not pretty.
But I bet you’re not exactly gorgeous when you can’t connect to the internet either.
And because we’re being honest here, which would affect you more: if you learned that your server would be offline for the next 24 hours, or that your president would be offline for the next 24 hours? Me? I’m going with my server because, although I’m willing to face a day without Donald Trump being able to tweet, I am unwilling to face a day without having access to the New York Public Library database.
Losing the ability to use the computer makes me feel as abandoned as a child who can’t find her mother in a shopping mall. It’s not like being left wandering in the desert without food or water but it sure doesn’t feel cozy and comfortable. Suddenly there are what-ifs everywhere: What if somebody needs me and can’t reach me? What if I need to correct a mistake or fix something but don’t realize it? What if something happens and I’m not aware of it?
This is what connects my desperation about my sense of reliance on technology to my desperation about the current political situation. As a child, I kept the small radio on my nightstand turned on at all times because I was afraid there would be a nuclear war and I wouldn’t know it was coming.
I wish I was kidding.
As a duck-and-cover child who clearly never quite got over that phase, the news now coming over my radio, television and through my computer (when it works) makes me long for the days when I thought hiding under a desk would keep me safe.
For most of my adult life, I thought our government would keep us safe.
I have always regarded it as my right to question my country’s policies at home and abroad and to address its systemic injustices. Since the new administration, however, I have come to recognize how entirely I took for granted that my country was, for the most part, a dependable and stable entity, governed by checks and balances keeping things in order.
The government, like my computer, was something I didn’t pretend to understand fully and yet believed would keep functioning. It was worth what you paid for it and those who were truly familiar with its inner-workings were knowledgeable, trustworthy and competent.
I’m no longer convinced that those running the operation understand how to use all the functions on the keyboard. I’m worried that Trump will one day say, “And what’s this button for?”
Is it best to exist in a state of low-grade panic, waking up every day wondering if this will be when the government finally stops functioning altogether? Is it best to call upon experts to get a series of diagnoses, only to discover they not only seem to disagree but, worse luck, offer contradictory advice?
Is it best to weep uncontrollably or decide to sit quietly in a dimly lit room as the sky dims or the horizon lights up suddenly, brilliantly and for the last time?
Or maybe it’s time to work toward a reboot, with an eye on keeping our world under an extended warranty.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.