Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Storming out of the world

For many years now I've been part of a Microsoft Word listserv (yes, the same one mentioned in this post), and as such I've seen messages (both questions and replies) from a group of regulars, and from these pseudo-interactions we've sort of come to know certain of the more helpful and/or more interesting characters on the list.

One such person on the list over that time has been an Australian who identified himself as the Word Heretic (for he didn't go along with the dogma of Micro$oft), and he was not only very knowledgeable about the innards of the program (down to the level most people would never even know exists), he had a very colorful way of responding to questions; one might not understand his reply, but one was never bored by it. When explaining complicated subjects he'd often employ the religious metaphor; the heretical moniker was not merely a clever affectation.

It wasn't merely us on the list who were impressed by his knowledge; he'd even signed on with Microsoft in their MVP program, seeking to influence improvements in future versions. (Yes, perhaps ironic given the heretical metaphor. I digress.)

Today, he sent an email to the list stating that he'd had enough. Despite doing everything one should do to maintain a PC, his machine was going BSOD near daily, and he was quitting the MVP program and "giving up computers generally." Within hours, he said, everything (whatever that might include) would be boxed up, and that would be that. Shortly thereafter, as responses started pouring in (although not to be seen by the Heretic, who was offlist before his message hit the list), someone noted having checked the Heretic's website, which was no longer found. By all appearances, he wasn't bluffing: he'd really gone off the grid.

I concurred with the many who replied to his farewell message with words of praise and sadness that he was gone, and I certainly could relate to being fed up with computers (even without knowing them anywhere near as deeply as he did). Frankly, my thought really boiled down to this: Lucky bastard.

I was sincerely envious of being in a position to just chuck it after having one's last nerve be struck. That kind of freedom inspired genuine jealousy. I think he made a living as a freelancer, and I got the impression he was well into his middle years, so perhaps it was easy for him to declare his instantaneous retirement (from the tech world at least): no boss to give two weeks notice, etc. I don't know what will come of him, or what he'll do now, or whether it will be any better than dealing with the vagaries of these machines, but I thought being able to change one's life so dramatically that suddenly was pretty cool.

Perhaps the email to the list was his approximation of marching into the boss' office to give the "take this job and shove it" declaration, then walking out with a dramatic trail of papers following him out the door. I've seen that sort of thing in fiction, but this was the closest I'd seen in real life.

It was giving the finger to the device at which the entire industrialized world suckles. It was showing those often-godforsaken machines the comeuppance they've deserved for a long time. It was the step I could never take every time something went wrong with my computers; I'd thought of hurling the laptop out the window or bashing in the side of the desktop with a fireaxe.

It was the scene from Office Space where they get medieval on the fax machine, only without the literal destruction or the gangsta rap overdub.

And the thing about it is that one need not even have been frustrated by computers to appreciate the act. Anyone who has fantasized of just dumping one's job (read: everyone) can relate. The difference is that for the rest of us, we have to satisfy ourselves with the mere thought, being bound by our responsibilities.

The modern world, for all its conveniences and so-called advances, still has plenty to push one over the edge, to try one's patience and sanity. Moreover, it's too complicated for an individual to overcome; it's like the Borg have assimilated us already, without us realizing we were on a huge cube.

If resistance is futile, then giving up and getting out is heroic. Nay, heretical. In a very necessary way.

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