Encounters in Publishing #20: New Shinies, by Liz Mathews

I would like to ask you a question. Think about every job you have ever had. How many did not involve computers? (This question might have some kind of reflection on how old you are.) I’ve only had two jobs that did not involve using one directly, though my bosses at both those coffee shops did have the ol’ boxy machines in their offices. That’s two jobs out of…eight. I guess that doesn’t really matter.

What matters is my department got new Macs last week, and while it is wonderful now, it was also awful, then. It was awful because on Friday morning it became very clear just how computer-dependent we are.

We’d known upon leaving work on Thursday evening that we weren’t going to have computers upon entering the office Friday morning. We’d been told it could take between two and six hours to transfer over all the data (junk, mostly, in my case) from our old computers to the new machines. Some of us discussed the possibility of bringing in champagne and orange juice and mimosa-ing up the morning. Others decided to just show up late, since they weren’t likely to get much work done. And still one other was given the task of cleaning out the marketing closet, which required requesting a dumpster.

Plans are great. But plans don’t make up for the weirdness of walking into one’s office and seeing a dust pile where a computer tower used to be. Also, no one brought mimosa materials, and the dumpster didn’t show up until the afternoon.

So I sat at my desk. I grew disgusted by the dust bunnies, and cleaned the desk top. This took up three minutes of the workday. There are eight hours, or 480 minutes in a typical one of those. So then I checked my regular email on my phone. Nothing new or interesting. About 467 minutes to go. I read some old New York Times Book Reviews. A coworker stopped in and looked at me as I sat at my wide-open desk. “It’s like 1992,” she said. I agreed, though I can’t remember what an office in 1992 looked like since I was nine at the time.

Once I got bored with the newspaper I wandered out into the common area. I spent a solid hour (sixty minutes gone!) chitchatting with other coworkers who were computer-less. At some point we would normally have ended the conversation because “well, we should get back to work.” But that excuse did not exist for us. Instead, when we reached a natural stopping point (for breathing or taking in air or letting our brains reboot a bit), I decided to go back to my desk and sit again. But I realized very quickly that it felt wrong and I hated it.

But then the IT guy showed up, and it turned out that I was the first among us to get a computer again. Everyone crowded into my office and we all took in the glow of the new monitor that’s bigger than many people’s televisions. I adjusted the screen brightness. Everyone left me alone with the new shiny. I tried to log in to my work email. The computer wouldn’t allow it. I restarted the whole machine, only to find myself locked out entirely.

I wandered back out into the common area. Nothing could be done.


Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.