Lost in the windows of opportunity

19th May 2000 at 01:00
IT STARTED when the editor of this newspaper circulated his unmodernised contributors to jolt us collectively and individually into the desirability of grasping the IT nettle and plunging into modern technology. Among other advantages, going online and e-mailing our contributions would save more keying-in at the other end.

My existing machine had never heard of the dot.com revolution. It is eight years old and usually needs a few firm kicks and fervent prayers to boot up. It invites from visitors looks of pity and suggestions of scrapheap or museum in equal proportion.

So a splendid new machine has been installed. In theory we, too, will soon be able to join the e-mailing classes and Internet surfers. But there is many a pitfall. Last month's contribution had been safely typed and the e-mail laid out. But how to attach the article to the e-mail?

From neither of my reference books (despite being targeted at "dummies") could I elucidate this information. It took a phone call to a friend in Forfar to be talked through this process, and still more phone calls to ensure that the piece had indeed successfully flown through the ether. I could probably have walked round and delivered it quicker by hand.

Spare a thought for the struggling novices at home up and down the country: attempting to hack a lonely and thorny path through the hostile and unforgiving terrain of Windows and Word. The trouble is that some basics are now considered so self-evident that no book or help menu bothers to mention them.

For example, if you don't actually know that computer files are strictly for storage, it is all too possible to waste a lot of time trying to create a document in the file you have so proudly succeeded in setting up. Or, until the penny drops tat screen windows must be closed in the precise reverse order to which they were opened, confusion is likely to reign unchecked.

With this month's article, all seemed well. Fingers flew merrily over the keyboard . . . until my attention was distracted by sunshine and cherry blossom outside the window. Disaster - one slip of attention and finger - and the screen went blank. My morning's work had disappeared into the electronic void. Which was the offending key? And how to reverse it?

The home worker often does not have the comfort of human help or suggestion to hand. Morale plummeted below the parapet with the realisation that many P7s would be able to rescue me in a couple of seconds. Oh, for the comforting presence of the tutor at the drop-in course I attend at the local college.

Having ascertained that the "Undo" function wasn't minded to assist, I tried summoning help from the baleful depths. Up came that irrepressible animated paperclip who always seems to contort with mirth at the imbecility with which I obviously confront him.

"Type in your request," he commanded imperiously. Gingerly I typed in "lost pages" and clicked "Search". I was rewarded with 10 distinctly obscure and eclectic options for action, none of which seemed in the slightest degree about to bring back that which was lost. Most of the options seemed to require at least a Standard grade in computer studies for comprehension to kick in.

Fearful of pressing any further buttons in case the damage became irreparable, I turned the machine carefully off and retired for a stiff drink, in the hope that on my return the pages would somehow have consented to reappear. No such luck.

Come back, discarded word-processor, rejected friend . . . all is forgiven.

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