Cider Press Hill

Virtual Environments

I was thinking the other day how computers and the internet have so insinuated themselves into my life. It was a process, but now I’d have to learn how to live all over again without them. I especially came to that conclusion after watching a friend’s life turn upside down when the recent storm removed her cable attachment from her house. She was without for a about a week and a half.  She realized the implications pretty quickly. She was virtually cut off from the world and, particularly, her livelihood. But beyond that, she said it was fascinating how many times during the day she wanted to go look something up on Google, get directions to someplace, check her bank account to see if a certain check had cleared or to transfer funds, order supplies online, and check her email. It was something she took for granted until it wasn’t there. She came here to collect and send her work related stuff, but it was still difficult. I gave her a couple of afternoons on my computer and took off so she wouldn’t feel pressured to hurry. She said it might sound hyperbolic, but it saved her sanity. I know those words would be coming out of my mouth, too, if I was in the same situation.

One of the things I found amusing, when she sat down at my computer, was her wail, “I can’t find anything! Where do you hide all your icons?” It’s true. I don’t have any icons on my desktop. To me, it’s visual clutter and probably tied in to my right brained-ness. They’re all tucked away on tool bars in drop down menus at the top and bottom of my screen. It’s my shorthand. But it’s also my computer environment that allows me to quickly and easily navigate my daily routines that I depend on. Everything I need is right there in front of my eyes...and yet tucked out of sight. When she opened my Firefox browser she marveled when six tabs immediately opened, my basic daily tools.  And, of course, I have Firefox so customized that she couldn’t figure out how to close tabs or open a new one. A double click here and left click there or a keystroke. It’s all good. This was exquisite torture when, in fact, she utterly hates tabs in the first place. I can’t imagine internet life without them. It took a good twenty minutes to teach her how to navigate this computer.

And then my computer launched her right out of the chair when it screamed at her. Indeed, it did with a very human sounding scream. I am notoriously scattered when it comes to checking my mail. I have email coming from a variety of addresses and, well, I found a neat gadget that tucks away on a tool bar that is keyed in to all my email accounts. When something comes in, the little gadget literally screams and shows me which accounts have new mail. I can hear it from any corner of the house without leaving a mail program running to eat up resources. When sitting right in front of the computer with the speakers turned up, it can be quite a heart stopping moment if you’re not expecting it.

Everyone is different...she said if she had to operate on a computer like mine, she’d go nuts. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be and, to her, it seemed needlessly complicated. And the screaming...gawd! As if life doesn’t already have enough stress without your computer screaming at you. Conversely, when I used her computer in the past, it drove me nuts, too. Nothing is convenient (to me) and I spent way too much time hunting for icons and flipping through browser windows. It’s just a box that sits there and doesn’t automatically do anything convenient at all. But it sure works for her. It’s designed for her comfort zone. it feels good and natural to her.

I’m not so sure that our computers are strictly tools anymore. They are a virtual environment, a world, and as personalized as the four walls we live in. I imagine they probably tell more about us than we realize. Nothing particularly earth shaking in that realization, I suppose, but my friend’s discomfort with my computer environment did get me to thinking about it. We create our virtual worlds in a box. And we’re mostly pretty comfortable with them, I’d imagine. Twenty five years ago, the idea of a ‘virtual world’ was unimaginable for the masses. My first computer was a glorified word processor running Wordstar, with a black screen and a green typewriter font. It truly was a tool without the world aspect. It made the IBM Selectric look like an antique. It makes me wonder what the next twenty years will bring. I might (almost assuredly will) look back at a post like this and quaint.


Speaking of virtual environments...have ya checked out iGoogle recently?  Google re-branded their Personalized Homepage feature. There are now some wicked cool themes (or the Classic Google, if you prefer) that change colors along with the waning day. I like Tea House for the moment. There are a gazillion gadgets and tools to populate the pages and there are TABS. Or not, if you don’t like them. I adore Google Bookmarks, too. If you have a gmail account, you can have your own iGoogle page(s). (If you don’t have a gmail account, I’ve still got plenty to give away). Google just does it better. 

Posted by Kate on 05/01/07 at 08:47 PM



I much prefer to google bookmarks.  I especially like the fact that when I’m marking something, I can designate it to be for Patrick.  Of course it’s designed to be public which means I occasionally think twice about whether I want to announce some of them.

Posted by steph on 05/02  at  02:55 AM

Just to show how set in our ways we can get I will generally give up a new computer at work just ‘cause I do not want the hassle of “moving in” and “arranging the furniture” in the new space. Just the hassle of trying to install all of the little utility programs you forget about until they aren’t there when you go to use them.
What a strange place this new century has turned out to be. Once upon a time I couldn’t wait for the next roll out of new computers. I even spent most of my time reading about them...Long, long ago in a place and time far removed from present reality…

Posted by Gary Boyd on 05/02  at  08:49 AM

I like the privacy of Google bookmarks. And I like being able to plop it on my Google page, too.  I don’t know when you looked at it last, Steph, but you can now file the bookmarks under different labels just like gmail labels. In Firefox there’s an add-on for the tool bar that let’s you add links on the fly. I like it a lot. But I’ve never used so I might not know what I’m missing. ;)

Posted by Kate on 05/02  at  11:18 AM

Changing computers is a major production now days. I switched over to a new computer in September and spent hours arranging things and switching stuff over from the old one. I used to drool over the latest in computers, too, but I don’t so much any more. (well, except maybe for a souped up laptop!) It’s too much of a headache to replace a computer unless I absolutely have to.

Posted by Kate on 05/02  at  11:29 AM

By the way, here’s a web page showing the different iGoogle header graphics over the course of the day and night. They, of course, look much better on a full page.

Posted by Kate on 05/02  at  12:28 PM

Ugh, I was off line for two days (day before yesterday) and spent all day trying to get the modem and router fixed, again!
And… I wasted way too much time playing with a igoogle page lol.

Posted by justme on 05/02  at  05:03 PM

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