After all the aggravation, people got sick and tired of computersBy Daniel S. Greenberg
Paris, Friday, December 31, 1999
BALTIMORE - Grandpa, what was the Internet?
Oh, that was long ago, in the last cen-tury. It was something invented by people called nerds.
They were nice people. I knew some of them when I went to college. They started with something called computers. At first they used the computers only for themselves, so it didn't bother anybody.
We'll go to the museum someday and you can see one. It was a box with sort ofa window in it, and it came with a tray of buttons, one for each letter of the alphabet. And also a bunch of funny buttons. I remember there was a button that had ''Esc'' written on it, and another that said ''Pause Break,'' and ''Alt'' and ''Ctr.'' Then there were a lot of buttons called ''F1'' and ''F2,'' all the way up to ''F12.''
How strange. What were they for?
Only the nerds knew. But it didn't matter until the nerds said everyone had to get a computer, and if you didn't, you wouldn't be able to get a job and your kids would grow up stupid and be poor. And the president and everyone who wanted to be president said everyone needed a computer.
People bought computers and tried to learn how to use them. But every year,as soon as they learned a little bit, thenerds made new computers and thingsfor the computers and told people theold ones were no good anymore. Thenerds got very rich. One of them becamethe richest man in world. But people stillhad trouble using the computers. So the nerds wrote what they called books for dummies that explained how to use them.I remember I bought one.
But, Grandpa, you're not a dummy.
Well, people learned a little bit. And then the nerds invented the Internet.
What did it do?
It made words and pictures go from one computer to another. And the nerds said that everyone else should keep their records in computers, and send them back and forth over the Internet. They said if you didn't use the Internet you wouldn't be able to get a job and your kids would grow up stupid and be poor. They said people shouldn't go to stores to shop - they should look at pictures on their computers and buy everything from the Internet. So, all the people with computers got the Internet, and it was in homes, schools, libraries, offices, hospitals. But there were a lot of problems.
Like what, Grandpa?
Little nerds - kids your age - stopped doing homework because they could get it from the Internet. And they learned howto steal secrets from the army, and the generals got very angry.
Mean people learned how to get other people's private information about their health and money from the Internet. Some people got weird and spent most of their time looking at the Internet and sending messages to strangers. And the nerds said there were viruses that could eat up everything inside the computer.
There was a lot of confusion and worry, but it was too late. Everything was in computers and on the Internet. Then the nerds said they had made a big mistake.
What was the mistake?
Well, they said that when the year 2000 began, all the computers in the world would break unless people spent billions and billions of dollars to fix them. If the computers broke, there would be no electricity or water. Trains would stop running and airplanes would crash. There could even be wars.
But I thought the nerds were smart.
So did everyone else. Everyone was scared and didn't know what do. So they gave the nerds billions and billions of dollars to fix the computers.
The world got by all right. But after that, more and more people got so mad at computers that they said they would live without them. Some people tried it, and it worked fine. And then millions of people held computer bonfires and smashing parties. Stores and businesses put up signs saying ''No Computer. No Internet.''
Then what happened?
President Gates said they were making a big mistake. But people had had enough.
The writer is a Washington journalist and independent columnist specializing in science, medicine and politics.
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