Feel the fear and do it anyway

At the beginning of this semester, back in February, I realised that my laptop wouldn’t last forever, that the battery life was getting rather low, that soon it wouldn’t last for the length of a whole lecture, in short, that I needed a new computer. So I asked our lab manager if there was any chance that the university could supply me with a new teaching computer, and the answer was ‘yes’! (Lesson one, you do not have, because you do not ask).

Anyway, it’s taken a while, because it is now the end of week 10 (in a 13 week semester) but today I wandered over to the IT man’s office, listened to a quick run down of the quirks of Windows 8 (in my windows partition) and Yosemite (in the Mac part of the computer), entered my username and password, and picked up a brand-spanking-new computer!

I have brought the shiny new and light laptop home and now I am sitting comfortably on my couch with a nice cuppa writing this blog post… on my old computer.

Why not the new one? Well, I’m scared! I’m totally terrified to do anything with it! I might break it!

Now, considering that at least one third of my work life is defined by the words ‘computational chemist’ and that in the other two thirds I use a computer consistently, I am ashamed of this attitude. But I also think it’s an attitude I share with anyone my age and older. (You don’t know my age? Ah well.)

I was teaching the computational chemistry unit last year as part of the second year chemistry course and I discovered I had two types of student. The first type was exemplified by an awesome mature-aged student who very carefully read every word of the instructions and would not click on anything in case she broke it. She took a long time (a very long time) but she got the right results every time.

The other type of student was exemplified by the young lad who raced through all of the set work until he got to the last calculation, which was quite complex. Every time he tried to get the computer to calculate this particular complex I would hear a cheerful cry from his corner of the computer lab: ‘Oops, blue screen of death!’ (BTW a blue screen means you have stressed the computer out so much that it thinks restarting is a better option than doing what you have asked it to do).

The computer blue screened about 5 times before he thought that it would be a good idea to read the instructions. I think that he eventually thought reading the instructions would be a good idea because I stood behind him and suggested in a friendly manner, ‘Why don’t you try reading the instructions?’ I’m not sure he would have come up with that idea by himself!

Perhaps a happy medium between the two approaches is the way to go.

Maybe this difference in approach is a generational thing. When we broke something in my childhood, it stayed broken. You then had to wait to get it fixed, if it could be fixed. Sometimes, if you broke something, you did without.

My children have grown up with technology that doesn’t usually break like that, doesn’t break for good, unless you drop it on hard concrete or flush it down the toilet. If you blue-screen your computer, it restarts and you can have another go. Nothing is fatally broken. And everything is disposable. A new toy is available on a $5 down, pay-as-you-go contract. Scrimping and saving is unnecessary. You can have it all, now.

Go back another couple of generations from me and the attitude is completely different. The aversion to waste is very great. If you lived through the depression, you didn’t just fix something yourself, you never threw anything away. Any scrap you have might come in handy one day either on its own merits or to fix something else.

We bought a chest of drawers off Gumtree last year from a man who was cleaning out his parents house after they both died within a week of each other (that’s a whole other story right there). He said that cleaning the house was a nightmare! For example, there were not one, not two, but three chest freezers (three!) sitting in the house, stocked with food. Food stored away to feed two elderly people who live two minutes up the road from a convenience store. Who knows what they thought would happen and why they would need all that frozen bread. But I guess if you have lived through deprivation then the fear of it will make you stock up on spare food, or spare everything, just in case.

Now, ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ is a good motto to live by and I’m all for living within our means and making do. I’m very into delayed gratification (which is good, considering how long it took to get my new computer). But this fear of breaking the computer is a different thing. I guess the worst that can happen is that I take it back to the IT guy and tell him I broke it and ask him to fix it. Embarrassing, but not the end of the world. I need to remember that failure is not final.

I think I had better bite the bullet, feel the fear and open my new computer anyway. I want to use it, so I need to learn how. It will be wasteful to have a beautiful new machine and not utilise it because of fear.

But I think I might wait until my tech-guru husband comes home first!

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