On Mahjong and the American Electorate

My mother-in-law spends much of her day playing online games with her friends and playing computer Mahjong by herself.

Last week she mentioned offhandedly that the game had stopped working. I told her that I’d take a look and see if I could fix it.

Upon logging on to her computer I quickly realized that there was more wrong than just a broken game. She had performance issues, evidence of adware and a generally unstable system. She said that she had noticed some problems but didn’t worry about them until she couldn’t play her game anymore.

I spent the next two evenings cleaning out malware, fixing Internet Explorer, installing updates and patches, defragging her hard drive and basically tuning up Windows (logmein free is flippin’ awesome (and free) but remotely fixing a slow, unstable computer with it can take a while).I was on the phone with her during some of the repair. The conversation went Something like this

“Is Mahjong working yet?”

“Well, I’m going to see if fixing this other stuff fixes it too. And, please, no more downloading free games. Why? Well, there’s this stuff called malware…”

“Okay. Let me know when you’re done fixing the game.”

“All right. Hey, do you see this window here? The one that says ‘Windows Task Manager?’ Right. Find the column with ‘User Name’ up at the top. Do you see how the column is filled with squares instead of words? That’s bad.”

“Oh dear…. Is the game fixed yet?”

“You know, next time I might not be able to fix this and I can’t re-install Windows remotely. I really meant it about the malware and the scanning program I installed and the defragmenting…”

“Well, call me when I can play.”

I got an email the morning after the first night:

“I can’t play Mahjong. Are you done?”

I wrote back:

“Not yet. Your system is pretty messed up and I’m not sure if I can get it entirely fixed from here, it may still lock up and I don’t think it’s running as fast as it should be. But I’m going to connect tonight and I should be able to at least get Mahjong working.”

Her response:

“Oh goody!”

“‘Oh goody?‘” I thought, “I just told you that the computer that you and your late husband paid good money for and that I just spent the last two evenings attempting to resuscitate is less stable than a ward full of Ron Paul supporters off their meds and your response is ‘Oh goody’?

At that point I had to remind myself, as I often do with residential clients, that to me her operating system is an almost unbelievably beautiful and complex dance of events, interrupts, handlers and threads all moving together in perfect step to a rhythm beating millions of times a second; she is a spectator, allowed to participate in and enjoy the dance at a much slower pace. Her only responsibility is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the dancers, that the floor is clean, that the lights are bright enough and that no one who wasn’t supposed to be part of the dance is allowed to barge in and mess things up. As long as she does her job the dancers keep dancing and she keeps enjoying herself.

But to her Windows XP means email and Mahjong.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle her. I love and respect my mother-in-law very much. She simply doesn’t care what’s going on “under the hood” of her computer. She doesn’t know a darn thing about maintaining or securing it and isn’t the least bit eager to learn. As long as it does for her what she wants it to do, she’s pleased as punch. She’ll even put up with a few freezes, a few lost files, a few obvious problems, as long as she can play her Mahjong.

But as soon as she can’t, as soon as the computer is unable to fulfill it’s purpose in her life, she gets angry at it. She blames it, or Bill Gates or Lord only know who for the fact that she can’t play Mahjong. She calls it stupid and evil, and I get a phone call. I ask her if she’s been taking care of it like I showed her, and she says “Well…”

She doesn’t take care of it, she refuses to educate herself about it, and even when it’s broken she only cares if it directly effects her life. Heck, she’s even willing to help break it if she can get a free game out of it. And when it does stop working for her she’s willing to let pretty much anybody who says they know anything about computers tell her how to fix it (but that’s another story).

I wrote all of that to say this…

The other day my wife (who has, during the presidential campaign, become politically aware for the first time in her life) asked me “Sweetie, how can people switch back and forth between the two candidates so quickly? How can they believe what Obama and Biden say in the debates when they are such obvious lies? How can they believe (as polls show) that the MSM is in the tank for the Democrats but not check out for themselves what they report? How can they trust the future of our country to a man who says whatever he has to to get elected and who has such a shady background?”

I thought about it minute and say “Well, honey, it’s like your mom and her computer…”

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