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June 07, 2007

James Boswell writes in his Life of Johnson, “€œA gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage, married immediately after his wife died: Johnson said, it was the triumph of hope over experience.”€ I know exactly what he meant.

My marriage collapsed January 30. It was sudden and complete. I fought hard to save it and did all the things one expects of rejected men. I begged, pleaded and cajoled. I sulked, raged and sought refuge in drink. I became an object of pity by asking my friends the same question my partner refused to answer: Why am I the only one trying to save this relationship?

My marriage collapsed January 30 when I installed Vista, Microsoft’s new operating system. I divorced and remarried February 24 when I bought a new computer. Oh, a computer, you say. Haven”€™t you over-egged the pudding? What a pathetic fallacy.

Computers are merely metal boxes filled with chips and boards and wires. Computers are cold and rational, not at all like women. Computers are our servants.

No, they are not. They have become our mechanical brides. Having lived half a century, I remember a world before computers. As a writer, I remember when people looked things up in books and scribbled their compositions on paper or bashed them out on typewriters. But that was in another country and besides, the wench is dead.

I once read an article that explained why men are wont to prefer their computers to their wives. Wives, you see, have wants and needs and are usually not shy about making them known, while computers do exactly as they”€™re told for as long as they”€™re told. Then you switch them off and forget about them.

Ha, bloody ha. If computers are our steadfast servants, why do I so often find myself in their presence saying, “€œHurry up!”€ “€œNo, I don”€™t want that”€ and “€œBe that way, then.”€ And why when I”€™m supine on the floor in the filthy murk underneath my desk, flashlight between my teeth, fiddling with their cables, does the question Who whom? come to mind? (Not to mention Chesterfield’s assessment of sexual intercourse: the pleasure momentary, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable.)

Computers are like women because only a fool pretends to comprehend their immense mystery and complexity. One day they”€™re happy (as far as one knows) helpmeets, the next they”€™re making disquieting noises, sending you inscrutable error messages or simply packing it in.

When a man buys a new computer, he is in the throes of a new passion. You are the one, he says. All your predecessors were as nothing compared to you. You are younger, sexier and cleverer. You understand me.

At first, the man cannot bear separation from his beloved. He showers her with software and peripherals. He follows the computer manual to a T. He is blind to her faults. Then the doubts creep in. She is no longer quite so young, sexy and clever. Her habits and deficiencies become irksome, even intolerable. He becomes bored and careless. He begins to worry she is betraying him. Perhaps, he wonders darkly, she never really understood me at all.

At this point, the man either trades up or decides to spice up his marriage. The latter is where I came a cropper. Windows XP was tried and true, but it was also same old, same old. Windows Vista, I was promised, would bring the sexy back. It was facelift, breast enhancement and liposuction in one. All this for $200? Try and stop me.

But did my baby want Vista? She was mute, of course, but I consulted experts (Microsoft and ATI, my video card manufacturer) who assured me that so long as I splashed out more cash ($300 for two gigabytes of RAM), the transformation would be painless.

January 30, Vista release day, found me in a state of”€”if not exactly tumescence, at least high excitement. The installation was lengthy but the complications minor. And the results exceeded all expectations. I was thrilled with the airy, elegant Aero interface and its 3D effects, with the graphical icons and thumbnails, with the lightning-fast global searches and with the customizable Sidebar, which put an analogue clock, a calculator, notepad, calendar and real-time weather reports on my desktop.

In short, I fell in love all over again. Then she froze me out, just like that. I rebooted and set to work rectifying the niggling side effects of the surgery. I deleted a host of programs and cleaned out my startup menu. Yet she continued to freeze, randomly, capriciously. I was forced to reboot 30 to 50 times a day; work became impossible; and I found myself shouting, “€œWhy are you doing this to me?”€

The advice given me by friends was well intended but unrewarding, so I sought professional guidance. I called Microsoft tech support. Two weeks and a half-dozen marriage counselors later, I had formed a low opinion of this profession, at least as practiced by Microsoft, where lack of expertise in computer fundamentals and illiteracy in English are no bar to employment as “€œLevel 1″€ technicians. (My favorite was the foreign chap who referred consistently to Vista as Visa.) “€œLevel 2″€ technicians (who can speak English) believed the problem was my ATI video card. So I splashed out another $160 for a new one. No joy.

My marriage was on the rocks, and Vista could not be uninstalled, so I consulted a divorce lawyer. That is, I took my computer to a repair shop. After two days of intensive interviews (diagnostic tests), I learned that Vista and my motherboard were fatally incompatible. A clean break was advised. So on February 24, I parted with $678 and lugged home my new mechanical bride.

This wasn”€™t my first divorce or even the most painful. Four years ago, two weeks after being fired from my job, I lost a decade’s worth of files and am not ashamed to admit shed bitter tears. Now I”€™m more philosophical. My new computer sits at my feet: taller, more secure, slightly faster, Vista free. After I finish assembling my new virtual household, i.e., reinstalling all my programs (if I can find them) and reuniting them with their data, I”€™ll become fonder of her. But she”€™ll betray me in the end. Così fan tutte, as Da Ponte said”€”they”€™re all the same.

Kevin Michael Grace lives in Victoria, B.C. He runs the web site
theambler.com when not crippled by computer problems




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