2007-03-15 / Sam Bari

Confessions of an information junkie

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

According to alleged experts, addictions, both good and bad, come in many forms. However, when I stop and seriously think about it, that might not be quite true. Could it be that "good" addictions are non-existent? Doesn't an obsession with anything keep us from exploring options, widening our horizons, and taking a good look at all the world has to offer? You know - the big picture.

Aren't the addicted possessed or dependent on everything from drugs and alcohol to fitness and food? Don't they cut themselves off from everything that does not relate to pursuing their passion? Aren't addicts often unaware of their addiction? According to our crack team of researchers, the Googlamaniacs, the same alleged experts say that all of the aforementioned is true. If that is the case, then it is possible to be addicted to just about anything, which brings us to the point of today's column. I believe I am an information junkie.

The epiphany happened a couple of weeks ago when my super tricked-out state-of-the-art, latest, greatest, and most powerful information gathering laptop computer on the entire planet - crashed. It was a terrifying moment. The million color liquid-crystal display froze in mid-download. I felt as if my heart had seized. Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. I was no longer connected to the virtual world. I was alone, exposed, forced to face reality in the flesh with no virtual support. Although dizzy and feeling slightly queasy, I managed to keep my wits together and assumed a game face. I was cut off from instant information. Never had I felt so vulnerable, as if I were the only one naked in a crowd.

I stuffed the ailing machine into my always-present computer bag and drove to the local mall. After a seemingly endless search, I found a parking place and walked down two levels to the computer store at a fast clip. I didn't run. If I was confronted by people I knew, I didn't want them to assume that anything was wrong. Once inside the store I felt safer. I was amongst friends.

Store personnel greeted me by my first name, slapped my free hand with high fives. "What's happenin' dude?" and "What you doin' here? We got nothin' left to sell you. You bought everything." Then they laughed. They didn't know . . . I didn't want them to know. "I gotta see the man - new stuff on the market," I lied.

I went to the door to the inner sanctum where computers are repaired at the back of the store. A security camera watched me push the entry button. A few seconds later, a buzzer signaled me in. I opened the door and stood for a moment as my eyes adjusted to the dark windowless room. The only light emitted from display screens and workstations where techies performed their magic, fixing, and upgrading computers of every description.

In the center of the room was a small inner room enclosed in glass. "The man" was inside, his pasty white skin a stark contrast to his black T-shirt. Everybody knew him as "Gizmo," or "The Giz." I'd known him for 10 years and had no idea what his legal name was, or if he had one. I stopped at the door.

"What's goin' on?" I asked. "Let's see," the Giz said. "The market's down, gas is up, South America's getting' hot, football's in a trading frenzy and Britney and the girls are overexposed and boring. All puns intended. And, as for the future of the planet, we're gonna need another rock to sit on in less than a century." The Giz knew, he was cool, always on top. Nothin' slipped by him. "I got problems," I said, then I told my sad tale.

"Logic board and ram, dude. You're gonna be outta the loop for awhile," he said. "A lump jumped into my throat. I started to sweat. I was speechless. I just left the bag and walked out. He didn't try to console me. He knew that words would not be adequate.

I had no way of accessing foreign editions of newspapers at the touch of a button. I couldn't instantly call up half a dozen versions of hot stories. For the first time in two-years I was going to flunk the weekly news quiz because I wasn't in the loop. I couldn't get to my email. People would be looking for me. The last time this happened, I was in a hotel that advertised Wi- Fi(wireless fidelity to connect to the Internet). I waited an hour and it wasn't fixed. I was so nervous I read everything in the room, even the back of the door. I knew where every soft drink dispenser, snack machine and fire extinguisher was located. I knew the laundry pickup schedule, and the phone extension of every service. I checked out. I couldn't take the isolation.

My condition is sad, I know. I got caught up in the information frenzy without being even slightly aware. Now I can't live without it. When information junkies are cut off from their source, we don't know where we belong in that frightening system we just can't understand.

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