Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who Does the Technical Writing for These Computer Companies?

The last time I wrote computer code was in 1971. Actually, it was the only time I wrote computer code. I had a summer job at the Research Triangle Institute, in the new technical park between Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina. I sat in an auditorium with other high school graduates, writing either zero or the number one on a sheet of paper. These were our only choices. We transferred our numbers from a punch card to a paper list. Or, was it the other way around? I can’t remember. I was so good at writing zero and the number one, that I was promoted to writing code.

Computers were enormous in the early seventies. Even though they occupied entire buildings, they operated with rectangular manila punch cards. To create these cards, I wrote questions that required a yes or no answer, two choices again. It was a simple linear math formula; A follows B follows C. I was smart and had never made below 100 on any high school math test. I planned to be a math major at Duke University. That was before I took a math course at Duke. Fortunately, I was blessed with a severe case of Mononucleosis in my freshman year, too much kissing. I was able to drop introductory calculus without wrecking my less than stellar C average. I immediately changed my major to Art History and Religion. Now I count on my fingers. But in my prime, I could write zero and the number one as well as any geek.

This is why I am so proud to have created my own blog today on my laptop. Although easy to use, the templates were not what I would have chosen. With my art background, a click here to increase the font size and a touch there to change the background color and upload a photo, made my blog attractive. But my laptop did not stop. It began to pour out pages of questions for me to answer. The word verification on the initial page was my first hang up. It took several tries to achieve success. The letters were wavy and distorted. I had to switch to stronger magnifiers. Finally I was able to move on to page two. This one was more difficult; Html something, texts via SMS or email via MMS, linkwertig, whoops, that’s in German.

The pages kept appearing, and the questions got harder. At the bottom of each page were two boxes, a top one that said yes, and a bottom one that said no. I was good at two choices. I said yes for 5 or 6 pages. Then a shadow of doubt overtook me. With what was I agreeing? For the next half dozen pages, I said no. Now I was confused. I tried to quit the questionnaire, or survey, or legal contract to which I had agreed. It was as if I had been pulled into quick sand. The pages would not go away without a yes or no answer. I resorted to clicking the red x at the top corner of the page. I was rescued. The questions stopped, and my desktop background appeared. I felt calmer, until the frightening realization that somewhere in internet space, I had legally agreed and not agreed to gibberish.

Who writes this stuff anyway? I am a writer. I use English. Do they train technical writers in computer school to be as obtuse as they possibly can? I will wait for the process server to appear at my door with my court subpoena, the legal ramifications of my gibberish blog contract. Or perhaps the process server comes on the internet, a server server, with pages of garbled words clipped together by that the Microsoft Office assistant, Clippy, that danced around my documents several years ago. A large paperclip, with a huge smile and a hand full of html coded pages, it makes me shudder. I am grateful that my Blog is finished, up and running. So tonight, savor these silly words and dream of Clippy, God rest his soul, he was laid to rest in Office 2007.

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