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Everyone Fights Technology

Sometimes the technology wins.

The reality of computers is that they are still machines. This means that parts wear out — hard drives certainly come to mind. We rely on fragile little boxes, in my case a MacBook Pro, to store our daily work, our family memories, and much more. Even the "non-moving" parts are technically moving on an atomic level, with heat slowly taking a toll. Memory chips start giving "exception errors" and video cards make abstract art of our virtual desktops.

This is why I make lots of backups. It is why I have three external hard drives, and hope the digital demons never cause all three to die at once. One drive is a clone of the MacBook Pro's drive, so if disaster strikes my current work is ready to be revived on another system. The other two are archives, saved for those "I think I did something like that before" moments.

With the preceding in mind, I now admit that even following good, defensive habits is not enough to spare a dedicated geek from hours of pain and suffering.

I spent from noon on Friday until 5 a.m. Saturday trying to revive Word and Excel on my laptop. Though other programs are "compatible" to some extent, I must still use Microsoft Office for some tasks.
Word died a strange and horrible death, refusing to even start.

I read every "user forum" and "knowledge base" article I could locate on both Apple and Microsoft Web sites. I tried dozens of various solutions, but nothing came of any of them. Some made matters worse, others gave false hope.

I resorted to reinstalling Office. When that didn't work, I did a complete removal of everything Microsoft from my computer. I located files in the places Apple is good at hiding from most users (usually to protect the user from doing stupid things). I deleted them all: font caches, preferences, templates, and more. Gone. Not one bit or byte of Microsoft remained.

Another reinstall and another failure.

I rebuilt the disk drive, using Drive Genius. I verified disk permissions. I did everything a good geek would do. Nothing worked. Word still refused to launch.

Finally, I decided to go for the ultimate solution: reinstall the operating system. Thankfully, Apple makes this painless. I downloaded the complete 10.5.6 "combo update" at a whopping 590 megabytes. It took about 20 minutes to download, maybe more. This was every little fix Apple had ever released for the operating system, all in one file. My suspicion was that something in "Rosetta" was corrupt. Rosetta is the technology that allows old software to run on Intel Macintosh hardware.

The install took another 30 minutes, plus two reboots.

It worked! Word and Excel were back to functioning. Life was back to normal... until I realized my customizations of every Office application were gone. Oh, well.

What, you might be asking, does any of this have to do with digital writing and teaching?

Think about the time and energy I invested in simply getting my tools back to functioning. My frustration with the tools of writing was turning into anger. Should a tool make you angry? Should technology leave me wanting my pencil and legal pad?

Actually, I do prefer to write on paper — at least early drafts. Now, I am reminded of why. Paper does not fail me. It does not require 17 hours of horror. Sure, I could have plugged in the clone and worked on another computer, since my documents are always safe. But, what do you do when the applications fail? The documents are useless if you cannot easily open them and get back to work.

Word's revising and version control features do matter to me. Other programs are getting better at these features, thankfully. But, in this case, I'm not sure who to blame... Microsoft or Apple.

No matter what, technology can and does get in the way of writing. At the same time, it makes it possible to do things I could never have done with a typewriter. Love or hate it, I'm not about to do away with the computers.

At least I can sympathize with my students when they fight the technology. The difference is, unlike most of them I can (eventually) get things working again. I sacrifice some sleep, but I do get things back to "normal" eventually.

Now, off to edit student papers using all those revising tools I appreciate in Word.

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