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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Computers? Who Cares About Computers?
August 29th, 2000

Sometimes we take computers too seriously. Throughout the year 2000, I have sprinkled hints through my columns, insinuating that computers are not that important after all. After simply hinting about it, I discovered that what I said lightly had even more significance than I estimated in the beginning.

From July 15 to August 15, I went on computer vacation. I sold my G3 before heading to New York for MACWORLD Expo, knowing that the odds of seeing Apple release a new G4 were excellent. The delay was longer than calculated and expected - it should have taken two weeks if Apple had shipped on time - but it worked just fine on a personal basis.

During that stretch, I had sporadic access to computers to file MACWORLD reports, writing one column per week and keeping up with basic e-mail.

It made me realize that computers were not my life anymore. It also made me grasp that while they are nice work tools, getting addicted to them and obsessed with them is harmful. I will deviate from the main thrust of my idea to describe parts of my vacation, but it will be necessary to understand the logic about computers being no more than work stations or part time entertainment toys.

For the first week, I went to NY to represent The Mac Observer at the MACWORLD Expo. Although this convention breathes computers, the week allowed me to spend less time in front of a screen than most people there.

I did not walk around with a portable, though one would have made my life easier for productivity around the show floor. In a way, I am happy not to own a portable since the situation forced me to spend very little time online. In fact, the only time I spent in front of a Mac was to work and catch up with e-mail.

Such time off was a relief and it rather broke the feeling that living without a Mac would be hell. It was nice to spend days without using technology around the clock.

Everywhere on the show floor, I saw people with portable computers. Many of them. I understand the folks who need one to file their Expo reports and articles, but a quick look at people's badges showed me it wasn't only the "Press" attendees who had brought miniature technology with them. Not to mention all those Palm devices. Talk about being addicted...

Early in the Expo week, I attended a classy Canon party where the company introduced new scanners. Meeting a few computer people made me realize something. While a few others and I were very comfortable around the atmosphere of partying and maybe debauchery :-) there were folks who thought "scanners only" and felt a bit of discomfort with the whole scene.

I may be a techie when compared to the average human being, but heck; you are in a party with about 100 colleagues and industry folks! Go out there and have fun! Do not restrict yourself to the scanners! They look cool but there is more!

Throughout the Expo week, such examples kept accumulating and time flew by to make me realize that I like computers, but that I would avoid making them a way of life.

On the second week of my vacation, I went to my hometown. This was the supreme computerless experience for a geek. For those wondering, I live in Montreal but I really hail from a small town called Jonquiere.

A town where an estimated population of 60,000 resides, in a small area with Jonquiere being one of the two main cities. A town where computers have so little impact, it's hard to believe. A town where you could bring a 100 rolls of film and fill them with shots worthy of the best desktop pictures. When you go there, you enjoy and celebrate nature and some of the friendliest people on Earth, only to forget the grief of getting Mac OS X later than expected. On a side note, only my love for Montreal and the employment possibilities keep me from heading back there.

In such areas, the Internet never developed like in big cities and surprise, the people who live there are less isolationist, more sociable, more human, spontaneous and generous. You can observe this situation everywhere where geography and density of population create the same life conditions. Coincidence? No, since technology separates us and turns us against each other.

Spending a week there with family, good old friends and just being around the community in which I grew up made me realize that the impact of computers in them was more than limited. I also noted that at the same time, some basic rules and standards of life are stronger than in big industrial, individual and technological Meccas.

Do you get the point yet? It is not just about breathtaking panoramas, friendly people who know me or even the nostalgia of a locality where I was born and raised. It is the realization that peoples who live without the heavy presence of technology can be happy. By going back to this way of life for a mere week, I felt its advantages again.

We can live and spend less time in front of our Macs. We can take them less seriously and limit their impact on us. We can conceive that beyond plastics and silicon, there should be life and people. The last two elements should prevail over the first two.

The next time that your partner requests your presence, revise your "just 15 more minutes, honey" and replace it with "ok, I'm coming now," hit "shut down," and forget about that damn e-mail or column that infuriated you. Forget the pinheads that bother you online, they don't deserve your attention.

Life is too short. You only live once and you only die once. You have to enjoy it to the fullest, even if this means sacrificing a few online pleasures.

If you suffer any symptoms of Internet addiction now, I strongly recommend that you consider doing something about it. You can find resources (there are tests on that site) to help yourself and for what it is worth, I can answer any questions that you may ask me.

The computer is a nice productivity tool but when it goes beyond practical use, it can become your virtual enemy. If so, you have to tackle the problem now.

Look, I love my new G4 for its value as a computer and work tool, but I learned that as a person, I have to go beyond it and be the master. If you feel Internet addiction in any way, admit it and work on the solution.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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