Sunday, September 7, 2008

Online Rhetoric, but first, please stand by...

Just in time for ENG830: I have somehow offended the computer gods.  I'm experiencing technical difficulties.  It's just my luck that my computer conks out one week before starting a completely online course.  My 8-year-old Strawberry iMac gave out last week.  The problem? None of the icons shows up on the desktop.  Not the hard drive, not the zip drive, not the folder full of downloaded knitting patterns and, especially horrifying, not the folder full of my papers for the summer class on American Lit I just completed.  My Doctor Who wallpaper still displays, however, so I'm hopeful that my hard drive is all right, just playing hard-to-get (to).   I lugged my computer down a flight of stairs and out to my car and drove to Best Buy to seek help from the Geek Squad.   The security personnel tagged my iMac as soon as i went through the automatic doors so it wouldn't look like I was stealing it.  Seriously? Does anyone even sell these things anymore? Remember these iMacs? They came in those weird round shapes and fun fruit "flavors?" The "geeks" at the Geek Squad told me they couldn't do anything for such an old Mac, so I had to make an appointment with the "geniuses" at Apple's "Genius Bar." Don't get me started.   Keep in mind, this is the same store at which a salesman once asked me if I knew whether or not my computer had a CD slot. Don't get me started on that either, or I'll go on and on about the CompUSA salesman who called me "baby" and made fun of the Mac "dinosaur" CompUSA fell all over themselves to sell me nine months earlier... . I fully expect to be laughed at when I walk in with my old-school iMac.  Pre-internal CD burner.  As a die-hard Mac fan, this is a problem I've continually had to face: Apple's annoying habit of rendering their own technology obsolete 6-9 months after it was introduced.  My iMac is old, but perfectly serviceable.  In the meantime I've had to resort to my backup computer: an equally obsolete iBook.  I'm already having problems.  I can't sign up with AIM or Facebook through Safari, and, after spending an hour writing this post, Safari quit (unexpectedly mind you) and I had to seek out my sister's newer iBook to finish. For some reason, Blogger's autosave didn't work on my computer.

What's the point of my anecdote? I share it to ask this question with my ENG830 class: how important is it to keep up with online technology, and what happens to those who can't or won't keep up?  I'm hoping the loss of my computer is only temporary, yet already I'm scrambling to work online.  Buying a new computer is not an option at this point, so I would have to use communal computer labs in order to do my work.   Internet access is not only increasingly convenient, it is increasingly unavoidable.  The Department of Education has made its financial aid application available only online, along with the paperwork for federal student loans. Entertainment, news and media are available 24/7, and updated at all hours of the day or night.  Internet enhancement is becoming more and more integral to modern life.  My technical difficulties transcend inconvenience; they are affecting my ability to participate in a prescribed component of my graduate degree.   

I realize my problem stems from my personal computing platform of choice.  Apple is notorious for relentlessly updating its technology, but on the other hand, I've avoided major software bugs and steered clear of Vista-like debacles.   The fact is, it is extremely necessary to keep up with online technology.  As we move toward a more technological society, the internet is at the forefront of information dissemination.   Breaking news and video are available online almost instantaneously.  Students can complete courses or even entire degrees online.  The lack of internet access is not an option.

What about those who are wary of the internet?  I work with students and parents, and there is a great deal of resistance to the internet among parents and older, non-traditional students.  The people i speak with who can't or won't keep up with the internet are frustrated at the lack of options when taking care of their academic paperwork.  I have heard anger, frustration, fear and even sheer panic in their voices.  I can understand their frustration, but to me it's equally frustrating as I try to help them.  The truth is, the speed and universal accessibility of the internet is changing information and administration.  Whether it's a university or a government office, once the decision to go completely online has been made, it's up to everyone to learn how to keep up, or be left behind.

I'm hoping my iMac is repairable.  Instant access to entertainment and news is a necessity, not a luxury, and I have become accustomed to having it available in the comfort of my own home.  I'll spend as much time at the computer labs as I need to, but in the end, I'll probably do what I have to--and spend what I have to--to surf from the comfort of home once again.

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