The Healing of the Computer
By Elton Camp
Word processing raised the expected standard and at the same time greatly increased productivity at the college. Easy revision meant up-to-date handouts. Tests, rather than being used for years, could be progressively improved and kept in tune with current lectures. College publications became far more timely, accurate, and useful.
Without justification, some of the faculty, especially the older ones, came to regard me as the resident computer guru, especially after I was anointed with the title “assistant dean of instruction.” It wasn’t true. I knew only slightly more about DOS and word processing than they did, but I had developed a workshop to teach word processing with an early program called, “Professional Write.” My presentation was designed for faculty just beginning computer use. I knew how to relate to them on their level and explained matters simply and patiently. Because of that, they assumed a level of competence that I didn’t possess. I was supposed to answer any question or deal with any problem related to DOS or word processing. I wasn’t equal to the task, but managed to maintain the illusion. They needed that kind of back up to feel comfortable and, hey, it never hurts to make oneself appear indispensable to superiors.
A member of the nursing faculty rushed into my office in a near panic. The program was undergoing its reaffirmation of accreditation with the National League of Nursing. One of the requirements was production of a book-size self-study document. It was nearing completion after nearly a year of work.
“It’s gone,” she muttered with horror. “I was working with the self-study and it suddenly disappeared. I’ve done everything I know to get it back. It just isn’t there anymore. I don’t know what we’re going to do. Can you come look?”
I thought I knew what had happened, but said nothing until we reached her office. She pointed desperately at the computer that had, in her view, just swallowed months of work. As coincidence would have it, I’d had a similar experience only a few days before which led to my discovery that Control-N opened a new document, completely hiding the one in use. The command was a toggle, so that repeating it brought back the original document. With the positions of those two keys, it would be easy to make the command inadvertently. I decided to have some fun with her and perhaps enhance the misconception that I was a computer master.
I directly addressed the computer. “You have taken a document that you have no right to,” I intoned as if it were a living entity that could hear and even fear me. “Render it up now,” I ordered in the manner of a Pentecostal preacher commanding a healing. Instead of using the traditional “laying on of hands,” I hit the keyboard, with both hands, aiming for Control with the left and “n” with the right. The “lost” document instantly flashed back onto the screen.
“There you are,” I said quietly and turned to leave her office without a word of explanation. I didn’t get away with it.
“Wait a minute,” she demanded. “How did you do that?”
The jig was up. Since she had asked, I felt obligated to reveal the “secret” of my seemingly mysterious power over the infernal machine. I was a bit disappointed. It would have been fun to keep her in the dark for a while and to allow her time to repeat the incredible story to the rest of the faculty. My career as a “faith healer” of electronic devices was over almost as soon as it began.