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By Staff | Sep 21, 2018

In the beginning, everything was written in stone. It seems that even Moses knew that you can’t trust computers to remember stuff.

In the beginning -twenty-some years ago -I scrawled my columns in longhand. The editing process involved numerous scratches and arrows. It looked like the random scribblings of someone who had a major spelling disability.

The whole mess was typed into our farm’s personal computer, a machine that was so ancient that its hard drive contained a tiny man who was furiously working a miniature abacus. The column would then be printed and snail mailed to the newspapers. Each column was saved in a word processing program called First Choice, which was silly because that was my only choice.

And so it went for many years. One fateful day, our eldest son, who has the uncanny ability to understand computers on an atomic level, showed me functions called “copy” and “paste.” He demonstrated how I could swiftly mold my indecipherable noodlings with “drag and drop.” My mind reeled when I realized how much I would save on whiteout.

Those tricks rocked my world. No longer did I feel the need to scrabble an indecipherable muddle in a notebook and I began to trust the computer to remember everything. We no longer committed our photos to film; all of our irreplaceable snapshots are now digital, stored under neat desktop icons instead of musty shoeboxes in the basement.

The computer became my memory. And as with all memories, there are inevitable failures.

The first symptoms were innocuous. There was a noticeable slowdown of retrieval and a general sluggishness of the overall system. This could probably be expected. But then the same things began to happen to my computer.

Investigation revealed that its software needed an update. I’ve been told that you should always update, although this philosophy doesn’t apply to everything, such as one’s spouse.

The update downloaded and the computer asked for a reboot. It’s the football season, so rebooting seemed like a reasonable request.

Following the restart, everything appeared both hunky and dory. That is, until I began poking around and discovered that large chunks of my writings and 18 months’ worth of emails had evaporated.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “You dope! You should have backed everything up on an external hard drive!”

Aha! I had installed an external hard drive where all of my precious data was supposed to be backed up. Supposed to be. It seems that you have to instruct the computer to back things up automatically or, failing that, conduct a manual backup.

You may point out that I could choose to store my data on the cloud. My understanding is that “the cloud” basically means “someone else’s computer.” This would simply make it easier for the CIA or the KGB or the PTA to hack into my stuff.

I strove valiantly retrieve the lost files and spent an hour on the phone with our son as he tried to walk me through labyrinthine computer file substructures. I finally gave up and took my CPU to a repair shop.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. A person should not have to be able to assemble an automatic transmission blindfolded to drive a car. You should just be able to hit “start” and go to the Dairy Queen.

After dropping my computer at the shop, I went about my daily business. Somewhere near the tiny town of Granite, Iowa, I espied a guy plowing a stubble field with a Farmall “M” and a three-bottom plow. I was instantly rocketed back to my teens and a similar tractor and stubble field.

Plowing with the “M” was a straightforward task: you slipped the tractor into gear, lined up with the furrow and pulled the plow’s trip rope. There was nothing but you and the tractor and the field and the sky. Your objective was to simply turn the brown stubble into black dirt. There were no cell phone calls or urgent emails. Your main source of entertainment was watching the screeching gulls land in your fresh furrow to gobble earthworms.

Every so often, you’d get off the tractor to stretch your legs and check the tires. At noontime, you were brought a scrambled egg sandwich and a thermos of steaming coffee. You stood on the headland and ate the sandwich as the gulls wheeled impatiently overhead.

My computer guy was able to retrieve much of what was lost. But one thing he couldn’t restore was my trust in computers.

I wonder if I could get a word processor that’s powered by a magneto. Otherwise, I guess there’s always the old, reliable stone tablet option.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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