She said no to computers

How many housewives there are like her in any given state, indeed throughout the entire country, I don't know. Confronted with the suggestion that now is the time seriously to consider installing one of those personal computers in her home (accepting it as a kind of necessary daily companion), she immediately said , ''Why do I need one?''

Had she considered the useful aspects of computers in her kitchen? For instance, that small, bulging address book that always gets misplaced would no longer be needed. Her reaction was direct. She enjoys reviewing the pages. Names come into view which bring fond, sometimes nostalgic thoughts, offering suggestions for calling people with whom she hadn't been in touch lately. She'd miss that old address book if it were gone.

Well, how about recipes? They could be arranged in well-organized manner in a computer. I cited the confusing system she uses, and described her unorthodox approach in trying to locate ancient pieces of paper with incoherent scribbles, three-by-five cards, curled newspaper clippings, folded half-sheets. Her unperturbed answer was a reminder to me that, in her own way, she always finds what she is looking for. Besides, her system allows for the possibility of coming up with a better recipe than the one she originally intended.

Computers represent a giant step forward in the history of the human race. Imagine having electronic mail. Letters can now be delivered in seconds and read almost immediately as written. Not for her. She won't give up the enjoyment of recognizing a familiar return address, or quickly tearing the envelope open and getting at the well-known handwriting.

Shopping can now be done without leaving home. Push assigned keys on the computer and she could easily scan prices, locate best buys, make comparisons, order whatever she wanted. So far as she's concerned, that makes no sense at all. She would be robbed of the adventure involved in getting out, going places, talking to people, walking, touching, seeing.

I brought up the subject of finances, an area which over the years has remained an insoluble mystery to her. It was possible, I emphasized, that with a computer she might even balance her checkbook or manage to work out a practical budget.

''It'll never happen,'' was her clipped response.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Computers make for perfection; as electronic devices, they rarely make mistakes. Her answer was casual. What's wrong with making mistakes? Actually, that's an effective way of learning, always has been.

I suggested she think of the time saved by using computers. Not for her. If we don't waste time now, we'll waste it later on. Someday, she's going to find out what people do with all of the time they save. The results ought to be interesting.

And word processing? Using the keyboard, one can view words on a screen, correct errors as they happen, position sentences, make instantaneous changes, and wind up with paragraphs that look excellent, that can be printed out, as many copies as wanted. She wasn't impressed. Carefully, she described her individual, unique system on a typewriter, not quite hunt and peck, not quite burning up the roller with speed - somewhere in between, a steady approach. Her method, she insisted, makes for creativity. As the words slowly tap into print, there is the pleasant opportunity to pause between words or sentences, to change ideas, gain new thoughts, rip out a page and start over again. You can't rush creativity.

Grabbing the concept, I blurted out, ''But you can't hold the world back, either.''

''I'm only trying to hold onto my little piece of world. It makes sense to me.''

''Well, then, you might as well go back to life before automation. Take one example. Look at all the employees who were needed to run elevators. Now the elevators run by themselves, safely and efficiently. That's progress. Those people can be used for other important jobs.''

''You know, I miss those elevator people. They were friendly, they'd smile at you, they showed an interest in where you were going, they were helpful.''

Nothing succeeds like statistics. Look at what's happening. In only a few years, the demand for home computers has soared. In 1980, approximately 300,000 units were sold, last year about 1.5 million, and 1983 should exceed that number. Her rejoinder: Statistics don't always tell the whole story.

It was necessary to summarize. It seems only natural that a computer in the home nowadays is a step forward, that technology has once again provided the means to make life easier, more complete, thorough, saving of time and energy.

Yet - I wonder.

That elevator operator was indeed a gentle, polite, caring individual. He handled those moving walls delicately, as a skilled craftsman might, proud of his ability to get people off and on safely, pleasantly. Now the elevator operates without him, smoothly, efficiently.

He's gone.

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