It’s one of those “Eats Shoots and Leaves” things. We talk about “Computer Help,” the good old F1, the very first Function key.
But today it was “Computer, help!” for me in London. I was trying to get to Liverpool using a ticket I’d bought online. I needed both the credit card I’d bought it with and a long ID number–which, in my haste, I’d copied incorrectly. (Note: check-in at airports is smooth by comparison.) It’s not easy to juggle bags and also enter numbers from an email or bit of paper, in any case. (Why can’t they just use the card’s PIN as security?) What was the answer? A sturdy woman with a warm northern accent and a long red wool coat–the uniform of the Virgin Trains ‘floorwalkers.’ She did help, and as she worked she told me how things had changed. For a moment, she reminded me of our local librarian in Great Barringon, who explains in a low voice to every person she can that things used to be different: before the computers, they knew everyone’s name, they could check things out to people who’d forgotten their cards. . . .
It’s a litany that gets wearisome, and we really did want the library to have computers and got tired of the foot-dragging that went on for years. But when things go wrong there really is nothing like having a friendly person there to sort it out, to be sympathetic when you miss your train anyway (having left too little time to deal with these mishaps), and to try to find a alternate route via Lancaster and Crewe.
The perfect final touch was finding out that the IT person I was visiting didn’t use a mobile phone. I’m astounded by how many people in high tech careers avoid technology: they obviously understand its limitations and downsides better than the rest of us. I want to meet the Silicon Valley leader I read about the the Wall Street Journal who lives by candlelight at home, off the grid.