The `Zebra Herd' in Computer Country

The new computer arrives. Great excitement. I have a book to write. My old computer has too little memory, is too slow and too simple. My new computer has it all. The dealer has promised that this software program is ``friendly''; computer magazines say it's ``very friendly,'' the ``editor's choice,'' and ``state of the art.'' Windows, doors, keyholes, everything. Boy, am I fortunate.

I install the software program in my new computer. A snap. But three pages into the manual, I have a flash of intuitive discernment and a deep sinking feeling. I have set foot in hostile territory.

The terms used in all pages are in the thicket of computerese. Page after page is filled with cross references, baffling terms, illogical advice, asterisks, and mouse clicks that open windows, then slam shut.

The tutorial is punishment. Nothing clear. Very hostile. I visualize a room full of 35 men and women creating this ``friendly'' software program, packing all known bells and whistles into it, and I, one lone man, now misunderstand their collective friendliness.

Hours and hours I spend on finding, selecting, and defining fonts, paragraph style, margins, color selection, text alignment, you name it; no, they name it.

I stumble through mystery files, formats, palettes, color options, and text adjustments, failing to grasp the whole because of the endless options. All I want to do is put words in sentences, then in paragraphs, then in pages, and save them. Please, is this so difficult?

In stores, I search for books to explain the program, but the books are thicker than the 450- page manual. Frustration mounts. Again and again, I begin a series of steps, lose my way and cannot retrace my steps, or nothing happens when I click the mouse, or everything happens when I click the mouse, which I've renamed the rat.

My wife says, ``Call the help line.'' I call the help line. A recorded message gives me six options. I select No. 4 and hang up. Three days later I get a return call.

``Wha's the problem?'' asks a guy named Cecil.

``Where do I start?'' I mumble. ``I can't get the gizmo facilitator in applications to scroll in the blue-colored interface mode.''

``No problem,'' Cecil says. He guides me through three steps. Zingo, the gizmo is home free.

Two days later, I experience the ultimate crash: All words disappear. I have boxes, files, and modes on the screen, but no words in them. On this digital Serengeti Plain where words are supposed to be as abundant as zebras, I have eliminated the herd. Nothing I try restores them. No words. No zebras. All is white.

I call Cecil. He suggests a number of corrective moves. All fail. More suggestions. All fail. ``Just a minute,'' he says and disappears for a few minutes. He returns. ``Okay,'' he says. ``Try this, this, and this.''

Obedient to a fault, I do all three in the proper sequence. No words. Cecil exhales. ``Okay,'' he says, laughing. ``Do you know what you did? This is a first,'' he says, laughing, ``a first.''

``What did I do?'' I ask.

``You created white words on a white background.''

That's not funny now, maybe later.

``There is nothing in the manual that says that can be done,'' I shout, ``or nothing that says if you do it, here's how to correct it.''

``Well,'' Cecil says, ``now you know.''

With three strategic clicks of the mouse, the words return, like zebras.

Cecil accepts my thanks, but I tell him he probably hasn't heard the last of me. ``No problem,'' he says, still laughing.

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