GENE OWENS: Who wants a computer that can fall out of your pocket?

  • Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013 9:01 a.m.

For several weeks now, I’ve found among my Internet messages a warning that the desktop PC is about to become obsolete.

That frightens me, because my computer work center is my second home and my desktop HP Pavilion is my principal work tool. The laptop keyboard is too small for my clumsy fingers and I don’t even want to think about typing a column on the touch pad of an iPad or the postage-stamp-size keyboard of a smart phone.

My PC is nearing the end of its normal 5-year life span, so I reckon I’d better replace it while HP still makes them. Otherwise, I’ll be stuck with a computer the size of a ball-point pen.

You read me right. Somewhere on the Internet I saw on the comfortable wide screen of my desktop’s monitor, a picture that looked like a row of upright ball-points. I looked further and saw that these were the computers of the future.

I immediately said a silent prayer for the long life of my Pavilion. I don’t want a computer that could fall out of my pocket every time I bend over to pick up something I dropped.

It’s a realistic fear. My eyeglasses ($475 a pop) are constantly falling out of my shirt pocket. I left one pair in the parking lot of a theater in Myrtle Beach and another in the home of a daughter. Neither was ever recovered. I dropped another pair by the sidewalk in a nice neighborhood near the local university and fortunately found them, a half-hour later, lying in the grass.

Hearing aids are far more expensive than eye glasses, but just as easy to lose. I lost one pair somewhere along a 200-mile stretch of I-85 in the Carolinas. Shortly after I replaced them, one fell out of my ear, unnoticed for an hour or so. I never found it. A few weeks back, the batteries failed on my replacement hearing aids, which were less than 2 years old. I took them out, slipped them into my shirt pocket, and unknowingly dropped them in the parking lot when I got out of the car. They turned up several hours later in about a dozen pieces. Somebody – maybe me – had run over them.

Those gadgets had served me reasonably well. I could almost dispense with closed captions while watching TV, and if I listened carefully during meetings I could understand what was said from the platform and from the floor. When I lost them, I concluded that it was reckless to trust me with anything that cost as much as $5,000 and would fit into my shirt pocket. I have replaced them with a $50 set of “amplifiers” with rechargeable batteries. They provide the volume without adjusting the frequencies to fit my hearing loss. But if I position them right and pay close attention, I can keep up with the conversation, and if I lose them I’m out $50, not $5,000.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never change from being an absent-minded creature of impulse. I’m prone to put things down without knowing it and without remembering where I put them. When I can’t find my keys, I never know whether I carelessly left them in the pair of jeans that went into the laundry basket or dropped them down a manhole somewhere.

Once, when Miss Peggy and I were in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we took a cab to a nice restaurant and I took along my new Nikon, which had a roll of film replete with photos of our vacation. In the restaurant, she saw something she wanted me to photograph. Only then did I realize that the Nikon was on the floorboard of the cab. I went back to the cab stand to ask whether anybody had turned up a camera in the floorboard. I couldn’t find a single cabbie who spoke English, despite the fact that they were citizens of a U.S. commonwealth.

My experience with computers has been just as bad. Once I took a laptop with me from Mobile to Montgomery, where I stayed at a cottage the newspaper often used when it sent people on overnight trips to the state capital. When I left, I placed my laptop beside the car while I placed my luggage in the trunk. I forgot about the laptop when I got back in to pull out of the parking lot. I felt my front tire run over an object and I heard the object go “crunch.” It was my laptop.

I had a similarly sad experience with Miss Peggy’s laptop. I once carelessly placed it in my desk chair with the mouse on the keyboard while I worked to get it and my desktop connected to the Internet in a new home. When I sat down on the cover, I pressed the screen down on the mouse. The mouse survived, but the screen didn’t and the computer was useless.

So if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with my old desktop. It’s cumbersome and awkward to deal with, especially when I have to go behind it to adjust a cable or plug something into a USB port. But it’s a dream to work with when it’s working right, and, thank goodness it won’t fit into a shirt pocket. And it can’t be left on a restaurant table, in a drawer in a motel room or on the floorboard of a cab in Puerto Rico.

Maybe by the time those pencil-size computers come along, I’ll have hung up my keyboard and left it to the next generation to keep track of them.

Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@aol.com. For more of Gene’s writings, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.

Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.

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