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November 08, 2016

My Life with Computers

Ah, what would we do without our computers? Less confused but probably also less fulfilled.

by Mario Rustan, Columnist

I bought a new laptop, a Dell Inspiron, for ten million. I am happy with the purchase, made after a thorough research and consideration, and am lucky that item I was after was in stock. Moving data, installing programs and recalling passwords are almost as stressful as moving residence and putting everything in place, and during the setups my mind went to all the computers I had.
My family’s first computer appeared in 1987, and the first thing I did was playing Paperboy, an infernally difficult game. My parents, meanwhile, used the computer for office applications such as WordStar and Lotus 1-2-3. Before Windows became mainstream in 1992, people used a Disk Operating System (DOS) and had to understand how to talk to the computer using several basic commands. The computer usually answered “Bad command or file name”.
We had a computer with Windows 3.1 in 1992 or 1993, and while people no longer needed to memorize several abbreviated English words, suddenly every computer needed a mouse and people had to know how to do a couple of things with it: double-click, dragging object, and right click. Then came more hardware requirements, the hard disk, sound card, speakers, and CD-ROM drive.
Windows 95 came at the right time, a prosperous Asia-Pacific and the advent of the World Wide Web, when the internet became accessible for civilian use. Dad bought Cyberspace for Beginners book, which confused us since it was a left-wing commentary graphic guide rather than a step-by-step instruction book on how to get online.  Months later, I embodied a great achievement in human history by printing a picture of the Friends gang on a folio paper. This was the information superhighway.
While Dad was constantly providing the cutting edge in technology, I was embarrassed that I kept struggling in computer classes. Struggling in Visual Basic class (but it’s supposed to be basic!). Struggling in Lotus class. Struggling in a propriety accounting program. Other boys, meanwhile, had finished their tasks and played random games found in the hard disk. Seemed like WordStar was only my good friend and I should stick to Solitaire instead of Minesweeper. It didn’t help that the school seemed to have recruited the worst available guys to become computer instructors.
Disclaimer: My bros became computer instructors in our old school and they lasted only few months.
I got my first laptop in university and got confused about why it wasn’t cut to play first-person shooter games. And, so, my lifetime struggle with computer began. All other guys seem to understand computer better than me and their explanations don’t help. No one seems to speak English or Indonesian when it comes to computer.
So why did I insist on a laptop instead of a desktop computer? First, I was too concerned about mobility, and second, it was easier to find laptop computers on retail stores with their specifications written. Of course, I stayed clueless about what’s new, what’s cheap, and what’s good. I had so many friends taking Computer Science, but hanging with them didn’t make me any smarter and wiser when it came to computer. It also seemed that Computer Science guys have many problems with their computers.
The mobility perk came as I could bring my laptop to lectures and library. No need to find a library computer, and tons of mp3 and avi files entertained me at breaks and reading time. Of course, my back complained as I went to the toilet while carrying the laptop in a backpack (one disadvantage of being a loner).
Other Indonesian students ridiculed me for buying original Microsoft Office and computer games, but I got addicted with downloading anime, J-pop mp3s, and porn through the torrent system. To the point that one day the laptop couldn’t handle all the downloads in progress and the hard disk’s needle gave away.

My replacement laptop fared no better. After three months, it got infected with a nasty virus which first I thought came through a USB stick, but more likely I was fooled by a false pop-up warning online. After handing out the laptop for repair I cried outside the shop.
Back in Indonesia, I stopped trusting official tech support, after my Acer laptop was rejected for service since it wasn’t bought in Indonesia (I was advised to go to the main repair center in Jakarta). Five years ago, I bought a Toshiba laptop of the right model but with underpowered specification, since I didn’t read the recommended requirements of games I wanted to play.
It’s easy to take for granted things we have now on our computer and smartphone. YouTube. Google Maps. Wikipedia. TripAdvisor and Booking. Social websites. Store websites sorting their products by price and name. I can’t blame my cluelessness in the past on what to eat, where to buy, and who to meet since the tools were not there years ago.
When that Toshiba was failing, I wondered if it’s time to switch to Mac or to tablet. Finally, I worked hard on the research and found out that Mac and some tablets are too expensive, and there are laptops under 15 million rupiahs that have 8 GB memory and GeForce or Radeon graphic cards. Now I’m very satisfied that I can play newer games, and is pleased with Dell’s promise that it can send its technicians to my address when needed.
I hope this computer is safe from any harm (I busted that Toshiba twice, with a glass of water and then with Windows 10 upgrade) and it can help my life for years to come – making more money, finding me a new home, and connecting me with more great people.
Thank you to all my old computers who had helped me and other people on different occasions. Sorry for all the hardware and software abuses you had to endure.

Mario Rustan writes opinion pieces for The Jakarta Post and is working on some other online projects and was featured in Guardian Football and SBS Radio. His dream job is still teaching High School History by day and writing for feminism by night.