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Software that'll clean your shower?

By Jeffrey Schaffer / January 28, 2000



Now that our information superhighway has survived the Y2K crisis, technology companies and computermakers can move forward at the speed of flying electrons as they bring out new products and services for the emerging dotcom society.

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Many TV commercials have common themes: getting used to having the ability to punch information into a machine and get results right away - instant gratification. Efficiency is nifty, multitasking is totally cool. The wave has no limits. At some point, however, every surfer has to come ashore for a break. And I wonder how many of them don't really enjoy walking on the beach anymore?

You may have met some of these people. They feel most comfortable working with software and gadgets, things that are predictable and reliable. Real life, in contrast, is full of surprises. Sometimes plans go awry. I can understand how personal relationships and other complex situations might be confusing and maddening for someone who's grown accustomed to typing commands and getting immediate results.

Similar demanding attitudes seem to be invading the financial sector. I'm puzzled when news reports say a company has shocked investors by disclosing lower-than-expected dividends. Fifteen cents per share doesn't sound bad to me, but if the original estimate was 30 cents it causes a Wall Street uproar.

It will be too bad if the microchip revolution ends up creating a large population of inflexible, surly downloaders. My mother would be extremely annoyed by this possibility. In our household, complaining and disappointment were not listed on the behavior menu. Focusing on the bright side was standard procedure for dealing with any setback.

She used to get very peeved by a famous TV commercial that featured two women having lunch, and one of them showed off a new wristwatch she'd received as a gift.

"Do you like it?" the first woman asked.

"Well," her friend answered, "I was hoping for a Longine."

"Some people," mom pointed out, "will never get a new watch in their whole life! She should be happy to have such a nice boyfriend!"

Her other favorite rejoinder whenever I started feeling sorry for myself and the unfairness of childhood, was a dismissive, "Oh, come off it!"

It has the ring of an effective campaign slogan.

In lieu of running for office, I'll keep reminding my friends and family that life can't be programmed, and there are lots of irksome daily dilemmas that may endure into the next millennium. You can't unburn toast. Honking in a traffic jam doesn't make the other cars move faster. No silicon chip will unclog the roof gutters in a driving rainstorm. There will never be a way to clean our shower by pushing a button on a keyboard ... you have to get there with a sponge.

Getting angry and frustrated about unexpected glitches in the world doesn't solve anything. Mom always said to be patient, keep your head up, and mind your manners. For me, it's been a pretty good operating system.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society