Stuck in the past … and happier for it? |

Stuck in the past … and happier for it?

Barry Smith
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyBarry Smith

If someone handed you a brand new computer, still in the box, no strings attached, what would you say?

Here, let me answer for you: you’d say “Yes.” Possibly even “Hells yeah!”

Unless, of course, you are my father-in-law, Pop.

Pop’s a retired anesthesiologist living in the quaint little town of Paonia. When he moved there from Los Angeles about 10 years ago, he brought along his “computer,” an ancient PC running DOS, and his “printer,” a sprocket-fed dot matrix. He was doing research on the history of anesthesiology and was using his “computer” to write articles on the topic.

Pop is good researcher and writer and is passionate about his topics, but is not exactly computer literate. He can do his word processing, but sometimes has to do so by following his yellowed DOS command cheat sheet stuck to the side of his monitor. A few years after the move, his computer started acting up. I offered to help, and I made this offer without making a single “time to replace the hamster” joke.

My offer was turned down. It’s fine, he insisted. He didn’t have any need or desire for one of those new, fancy computers that DON’T lose your files. Bah!

I knew that soon his computer, already fit for the museum, was going to crash in a big, bad way, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him losing years of work, work which he refused to back up. So when I was given an old PowerMac 7200 ” a computer already very outdated ” we took it to Pop’s house. I set it up for him, showed him how to use it, transferred all of his old data to the “new” computer and he … continued to use his old machine.

Until the day came when he stuck a floppy (!) in the drive and the computer took a bite out of it. I managed to rescue his data, move it to the “new” machine ” again ” and explained that when the computer crashes for real, I won’t be able to help.

This put the fear in him, and he started using the Mac. He even disassembled the old PC and put it in the corner. Progress was being made. We were closing the gap.

After he’d used the new/old Mac successfully for a few years, my wife, Christina, and I decided that it was time to merge him on to the “information superhighway.” Not to slight his local options, but we assumed there’d be more research possibilities online than at the Paonia Public Library. But to get online he’d need a real computer.

So, two weeks ago we bought him a new iMac (20 inch screen, 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB RAM, 250GB hard drive, 8x double-layer SuperDrive ” a far nicer computer than the one I currently own.) I loaded it with software, set up his iTunes so he could stream his beloved classical music with one click, got him a thumb drive for easy backup, called his local Internet provider and scheduled an installation so he’d have high speed wireless waiting on the day we arrived. We even shot video of this process, thinking we’d make a little “Pop Enters the 21st Century” documentary. I mentally planned out camera angles to catch the maximum surprise and delight in his face at the moment we unveiled his new, sleek machine.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

The Internet company called him to reschedule their installation, letting the cat out of the bag. We showed up and he had his Luddite Manifesto prepared for us, explaining at length how proud he was that his TV gets only two channels and that he has to use a letter opener to switch between these two channels. His clock radio will die soon, and when it does, he told us, he won’t get a new one. He held up a recent issue of a medical journal, flipped it open to his latest article and pointed to his bio ” specifically the part where it listed his PO box rather than his non-existent email address. This clearly made him happier, in a benign Unabomber sort of way, than any new computer ever could.

I don’t understand it. I pore over the latest MacLife magazine with a passion usually reserved for porn. I have three web pages and a blog. I have two computers and three screens, and I want more.

Pop wouldn’t even let us take the new computer out of the box, insisting that the Internet will distract him from his research. I tried to explain that it wouldn’t, yet now, days later, as I sit writing this column I’ve checked my email five times and gone online twice for totally pointless reasons.

Maybe Pop has a point. A point which I may never understand, and probably won’t even have time to ponder, as I now have to find a place to put my new iMac.

Read more about Barry Smith’s adventures at

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