Friday, February 1, 2008

I'm like a shark

Being a techie forces you to become a master of the analogy. Computers are a strange dark art, where everyday work is done in a theoretical soup of pictures generated by words, words which are themselves descended from tiny pockets of electrical charge that represent, in a kind of philosophical mind trip, the vague concepts of "yes" and "no."

So when someone asks you what is, to their mind, a simple question about why this nebulous rabbit hole failed to represent . . . oh, say, the first level of "Desktop Tower Defense" or a far less respectable game of "Solitaire," you generally want to shake that person firmly and scream, "BECAUSE IT'S A MIRACLE THAT IT WORKED IN THE FIRST PLACE! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? SOMEONE WROTE WORDS ON A MAGIC BOX AND THEY CAME TRUE!"

But you can't do that. At least not more than once. TRUST ME.

Instead, you must learn to delve back into the ethereal and find some way to explain to users (by which I mean normal, healthy people) how to fit this madness into their lives.

And that's how I came to realize that browsing the web is like throwing a little party, where each of the pages you visit is a person you invite over. If you limit the guest list to those you know well, you'll have a fun, safe time. But put up a flier for the party in your local downtown area (analogous to searching Google for "free screen savers" and clicking all the links you get back) then your party will be populated with strangers who spill drinks on the carpet, throw things at your TV, and stop up your toilet (None of those examples are direct analogies. Don't try to figure out their computer equivalents.)

So when someone asks me how they could possibly have gotten a virus, or some spyware, or 30 gigs of Hollywood movies divided into thousands of .rar files on their computer, I like to imagine that person standing in the defiled, burning wreckage of their former home on the morning after a flier party, confident that this isn't their fault.

But if that's who the strangers are, then who are your web browsing friends? Even trusted friends aren't perfect, right? They each have their own little quirks, and it's worth reviewing what each friend contributes to your gathering. is a pretty good guy, generally. He's always up on current events and can converse, at least a little, about nearly anything. The only troubling part is his obsession with Britney Spears, who he talks about with the same regard that he has for the Iraq war and major political shifts. has a lot in common with CNN, but you should usually keep them apart. Fark is very knowledgeable and current, but she has a cynical sense of humor and likes to make fun of everyone, including CNN. Secretly, I suspect CNN is bitter about how often Fark is more up-to-date than he is. is your all around sports guy, a staple of the good party. He knows all the scores, remembers all the big plays, and is generally fun to be around. Too bad he has a tendency to get on a single topic and run it completely into the ground. Inexplicably, he too is prone to ramble about Britney Spears. is your gossipy socialite. She knows everyone, even knows who knows whom, and is on top of every relationship, breakup, and engagement. She's great to have around, for the most part, always reminding you of someone's birthday or an upcoming event. Just make sure to specify how much of your information she's allowed to repeat, because otherwise she'll broadcast it to everyone you know. is a total geek, no doubt about it. He talks so much that critics constantly accuse him of making it all up, even though they're hard-pressed to find any examples. But say what you want, he's the only guest that can talk history and light saber fighting styles with equal fervor.


* is generally funny, sometimes incisive, but talks about video games WAY too much.

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