CD rom rant

CD rom rant

Andrew Brown for John Price

Some bright spark has sold the British Psychological association on the idea of a CD-rom which can replace a psychiatrist. Apparently tests show that typing all your troubles into a computer works just as well as talking to a counsellor; and of course a compact disk has no troubles of its own and doesnít mind being woken in the middle of the night for a talk. You donít have to pay them a salary, either; nor do they dream of a chat show of their own, where celebrities will splash salt tears on their perfect silvery surfaces.

Thereís only one problem: no matter how well a CD-rom can replace a psychiatrist, you still have to plug it into a computer, and computers drive people mad. If there is one thing guaranteed to produce anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hysteria, and finally homicidal despair, itís computer software. Imagine: there you are, typing "My husbandís just left me and I have nothing to live for." .At once, the screen turns pale blue and replies:. "Not ready reading drive D: Abort, retry, cancel?"

Or you tell it that life is meaningless, and again it steals your lines: "This program has caused a general fault at AABB99567D and will be terminated." Thereís probably an arty variation for Apple Macintosh users which, when you complain that men are no good at communicating silently prints a row of bombs across the screen and exits.

Of curse, these are only the obvious ways in which computers can wreck your life. There are all sorts of subtle methods too, when they do exactly what they are supposed to do and the result is an impossible tangle. How can you trust your innermost thoughts to a machine that calls a screen where it never responds a dialogue box when any fool can see itís a monologue box?

The problem isnít that human problems are too complicated for computers to solve. All the computer need really do is type sympathetically: "really?" and "you never?" and "That must have felt awful" or once in a while "Pull yourself together, you great whinging jelly". This works, and there have been programs to do this for at least twenty years. No, the real problem is that modern computers are far too complicated for human problems. They are twice as neurotic as any of their potential patients.

I donít want to be too despairing. There is one really therapeutic use for a modern multi-media computer: open the CD rom drive, and take out whatever is inside it. Then fill a large tumbler with whisky and ice, and place it where the disk once was. Drink slowly. If that doesnít work, pour the whisky into the computer and get a life. Itís safer than software.

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