Last weekend, my computer played up. Suddenly I couldn’t post the fascinating blog item I had written. I couldn’t update my Facebook page.
The computer gave me some kind of message about a “Flash” that had “crashed.” I’m old enough to remember the sputtering rockets of Flash Gordon in the 1950s series that was rebroadcast on the BBC in the early 1970s when I was a kid. That image held off my sense of powerlessness and frustration for about a half minute.
Then I went nuts and hit myself in the head. Yes, full fist to the side of the head. As I watched the little dial on my screen telling me the computer was “still working on it”….on and on. Hit myself in the head six times.
Then I decided that it was stupid to be so frustrated over a computer. (I haven’t hit myself in the head for a decade, and that was when I was divorcing my first wife, so I consider it to be far more excusable, though no less daft.) In fact, I realized that this Flash-crash might actually save me from the attention-deficit disorder known as “writing a blog” and “having a profile online.”
I’m told these things are good for an author, to build a public awareness of his work. But what would happen if I didn’t do them? Suddenly I faced the prospect of (a) getting my computer fixed, or (b) never filing to my blog or updating Facebook or Red Room or Goodreads or Crimespace or Twitter ever again. I like to prevaricate, so (a) seemed quite possible.
My pal Alex Ruehle, a journalist at the Munich newspaper the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, recently published a book about his six months spent NOT going online. To sum up: it was quite hard for Alex to function in the modern world without going online, and he described to me the palm-sweating tension when his mind, his body, his entire being urged him to give up and check his email.
In my case, eventually my internet provider informed me that the modem they had installed only a few days before in my apartment was entirely inappropriate. Inappropriate because it didn’t work and never would. “I don’t know why our technician did that,” the fellow from tech support said. I knew: he was trying to save me from ever going online again. Bring in the modem and we’ll give you a different one, they said. One that works.
Secretly cursing them for figuring out my problem, I went down to the phone company’s office in a somewhat shady neighborhood behind the bus station, like a junkie looking for his score. Why am I doing this? I told myself. Do you really want to go online? You have a perfect excuse for resigning from the whole thing. Next time someone says “Do you tweet?” You can just say, “I would. But my computer doesn’t want me to.” I even reversed into a one-way street, so I could break through the iron-clad system of No Entry signs behind which the phone company barricades itself. I broke the law—just so that I could go online again. What’s wrong with me? I thought. I’m sick.
I plugged in the new modem. My blog item posted. My Facebook page zinged into life (suddenly I had 900 friends again—did you miss me?) And thus I resumed the true battle against being online. Because not having online access is a kop out. I need to face it every day, to test my resistance. Like an alcoholic who keeps a bottle of gin in the kitchen to gather dust, it shows that I’m strong.