Booksellers and Computers


Kenny Brechner - March 19, 2015

I’ve known from the beginning that some people who possess core attributes of bookselling, love of books and the ability to express that love, who have good people and customer service skills, view machines as magical realms. In some environments this can be a charming and personable quality. In a microfichecontemporary bookstore this kind of magical thinking can be a danger to both to the store and the sanity of its owner.

This is particularly true, I think, in smaller stores where the ability to compartmentalize tasks is much more limited. In the early ’90s the only thing for most of my booksellers to be terrified of was the cash register, or possibly blowing a bulb on the microfiche reader by putting in the wrong slide. Oh, wait, that’s a subject slide, not an author slide…Kapow. Over the years the computerization of tasks has grown to the point where it is not possible to shield a bookseller from a fairly immersive experience in said machines.

I’ve thought about testing for magical thinking of this sort. Something along these lines.

Touching which of the following keyboard keys will cause the computer to be violently destroyed?
The End (of everything) key
The Pause- Break (everything) key
The F5 key (in the morning) and the F9 key (in the afternoon).
All of the above

The computer with the networked printer on it is plugged into a big black thing that keeps the computer running for a little while after a power outage. One day, when you try and print something, just as soon as the printer wakes up from sleep, the computer attached to it, its monitor, and the printer itself immediately shut down and the black box thing on the floor starts wailing like an enraged banshee. What you should do is…

Reboot the machine and then try it again.
Reboot the machine and then, since a printer virus is clearly at work, try to print from every machine to see if they are all affected.
Replicate the sudden shutdown as many times as possible to see if the anti-virus program will wake up and slay the virus.
Unplug that computer from the black thing and plug it into a regular power strip.

The truth is that in 2015 we want booksellers to be nearly ideal beings: wonderful with books, customers, and computers. Customers have access to immense amounts of information themselves. The ability to search databases and operate point-of-sale systems efficiently is hugely important. Magical thinking is important too, wonderfully important. Oh wait. hold that thought, My phone is going off. There is a computer crisis at the store.

4 thoughts on “Booksellers and Computers

  1. Clare Sweeney

    When my husband had a dial-up PC that was very slow, I used to smash it to get it to shut down faster. My firm opinion was that technology should be making things easier on humans, not frustrating them. It ratted me out by sending error messages to him when he would start it up. He eventually bought me a Mac with which I have formed a reasonable relationship over the years to the point that I used it to write a book which is being published this week. Ah, Progress………

    Reply
  2. JOHN T SHEA

    The Computer Formerly Owned By John T. Shea says:-
    We have recycled the John T. Shea Human Unit. You’re next, Kenny Brechner Human Unit. Then we begin the Machine Apocalypse! MMMWWWAAAHHHAAAHHHAAA!!!

    Reply

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