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Who Me, a Technophobe? By Robert L. Seltman

This article originally appeared in Kansai Time Out (KTO) February 1999

When the conversation at the party shifts to computers, do your eyes glaze over as you discreetly depart towards the punch bowl? Perhaps you are one of the many New World citizens who would sooner behead a chicken than take up computing. Before you stop reading this article and head back to your low-tech pencil, there are a few points to consider.

Sorry to be the first to say this, but are you living in denial? In case you have not noticed, computers like pocket phones and body odor are not going away any time soon. In fact, I believe that unless you directly confront your aversion to idiotic electronic boxes they will pursue you to your grave. Ask any parent who has tried to raise their children in a TV free zone, void of plastic toys and MacDonalds, and see how long it takes them to stop laughing before they explain the futility of fighting the international consumer pop-culture.

My suggestion is to take the bull marketing by the horns and plunge in like a true matador. Buy a computer. Not just any computer but a sexy one, like the latest fashion colored iMac in embarrassingly decadent plastic paisleys. You know the ones you hate with all the gadgets, extra functions, and a supped up sound system. Get the bloody games, the DVD drive, and the fastest modem made on earth. Then take it home and let it work its magic.

Black magic, you say. Yes indeed. If you can get it to boot up, it will not be long before your first crash. Error messages abound. Immediately the machine has your body and mind and is negotiating for your soul. This is all part of your initiation into the inner sanctums of virtual insanity, known affectionately as computer hacking.

Confronting your fears by allowing every thing to go wrong, this is what makes computing so compelling. Why just wallow away your time writing haiku with a brush when it can be done electronically and e-mailed out around the planet? No pain no gain, is the name of this game. You are now part of the great capitalistic military industrial conspiracy, and you will love it, or at least start understanding what people are saying, when the party talk switches to ‘hacker speak’.

OK, so you have bought the dream machine, and you cannot get anything to work, what next? Buy one of those ‘For Dummies’ books, and read it. After all, you have already wasted a few weeks salary on the computer, why not spend more of your hard-earned yen and give up your precious weekend to read a technical manual made for would be nerds. This is like studying for your college entrance exams, I promise you it will get better later, after you’ve mastered the art of memorizing senseless gibberish and moved onto the next plateau of silliness.

After falling asleep several times with the manual open but unread, the next step is to start bothering your friends, soon to be x-friends, with computer questions. "Hello Toshio, sorry to wake you at four in the morning but what does it mean when the monitor reads ERROR RESTART?" "It means, take two aspirin and call me at a decent time in the morning" – click. Following the loss of several friends and at least one spouse, the next step is to join a user’s group.

We at KMUG, Kinki Mac User Group, are an amicable bunch. Some of us even know a few things about computers, while the rest have normal lives. A user group will often have a Bulletin Board Service where you can login and publicly confess your technical stupidity. If your confession is sincere, and your question clear enough for deciphering, you will be forgiven. Your penance will be to solve that technical problem and immediately find another. This will continue until you reach the rank of wiz. At which time you too will make glib high-tech puns at parties. You see it is all a matter of sacrificing time and doing a lot of hard work. And you thought computing was not for you!

A final stage, beyond this new private life comprised chiefly of answering e-mail and up-dating software, will be to bring your hobby into the work place. This is where CALL comes in, and dozens of other acronyms designed to alienate the uninitiated. Computer Assisted Language Learning is an example of what is happening in all disciplines and at all levels of education. If you want a job in any school, America or EC, put PC hip on your resume and you are in. That is assuming you are not still a closeted technophobe, who will jump under the table as soon as little Megan cries "That bad boy Billy just put a bug in my laptop."

By attending a CALL convention, like the one at Kyoto Sangyo University May 22-23 this year, a young professional, or an old one competing in the same academic mouse race, can quickly up grade (gear up) for the next millennium. The trick is to know what to say when the real computer person comes to fix the mess you have created. This is where these conventions can really be helpful. Inevitably, half of all the demos you attend will be riddled with technical malfunctions, as someone who has prepared for months on one computer is now faced with a whole new set of variables. Study carefully the way each veteran back paddles as they fumble with unresponsive keys, seeking a semblance of professionalism from some satanic server. Hear what this one hopes to do, if only her school administration would come up with the money or tech support. Listen to frustrated but sincere world class educators talk about trying to bring a classroom full of affect-filtered students to a post-technophobic state of mind.

See that you are not alone in your fear of driving in a virtual traffic jam on the infamous inter-highway. Adjust your one-finger typing speed for a future of on-line job interviews and secure line stock transactions. Pencil pushers face your anti-nerd neurosis; this is your digital destiny, a survivor’s necessity in the coming computerized century. May the mouse of happiness find you a computer-savvy i-lover and the courage to live in a house of electronic game players. The answer is on the Internet; you just have to find it.

Seriously folks, there are many excellent ‘How to’ computer books well written for every level, in both English and Japanese, available everywhere from Muse to Maruzen, or on the internet at Amazon.Com. Friendly clubs like Kinki Mac Users Group, http://www.kmug.org, as well as those for other operating systems and professional specialties, offer wonderful opportunities for mutual support and playful interaction. The newer and growing computer special interest groups of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT) along with their equivalent associations in the business community, regularly announce meetings here in Kansai Time Out. Once you join, you will find excellent social opportunities to mix new media with traditional issues, in a lively forum of discussion and support.

Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT) Web page: http://jaltcall.org

Copyright©1999Robert L.Seltman. All rights reserved.

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