Which Pill Will You Choose?

December 4, 2013
It was a cool, dark fall evening in the quiet city of Chandler. A young boy was mystified at what his parents had brought home. The large box was covered in bright, bold letters: COMPAQ. His four year old mind was racing. What could it be? A tool? A new TV? A toy? As his mother unveiled this new contraption, he would soon find out that it would be all of those and more.

I was introduced to the computer at a fairly young age. Since my brother was too young to communicate with and television was rather trivial, playing on the computer was one of my only means of entertainment. I would spend hours in front of it playing educational games, typing in notepad, and browsing the file registry, trying to demystify the wonder that was this box with wires. How did it know to open minesweeper when I clicked on it? How does it read the plastic disks I put inside of it? Such complex questions stem directly from that elementary question which all children must ask repeatedly. It is from this fundamental question that the solutions of all scientific inquiries, like those of quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, and the origin of the universe, are derived: Why?

As I continued my journey to learn the inner workings of the glorified microwave in my parents’ closet, I ran into a fatal error. The computer was running Windows 98- the most hated, wretched, unstable, wicked, corrupt, unpropitious, putrid, and faulty operating system that Microsoft had ever produced. Consequently, as I was typing away in Notepad, observing how quickly a new letter would be created after holding a key down, something seemed wrong. The screen froze. The mouse was motionless. The room stood still. A cold gust of air pierced the room, running a chill down my spine as I lay stunned and immobile. It was from this moment on that he became whole heartedly dedicated to the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The infamous blue screen of death had struck. His teacher, laboratory, and companion was gone. His wonder, awe, excitement- all crushed in a matter of a second. Before that run-time error, he was a mere boy, punching away at keys, clicking away at icons. After that error, he emerged a man, dedicated to the field of technology and resolute on ensuring that a catastrophe of this magnitude would never happen again.

Well, not really. There was only one flaw with his goal. His parents had replaced the Windows based computer with something a little more “user friendly.” Undoubtedly, this would be the common sense solution. Apple products were gaining popularity and were well known for being easier to use, not getting viruses, and being overall more reliable. This is fine if you are a person who likes to remain in the cave, uninformed about how technology works, and stuck in the dark ages of computing. I did not like this approach at all. Running from the problem is never a solution. It made more sense to apply the antidote to the malady rather than to amputate the limb. Furthermore, the company forces the consumer into a pseudo-monopoly, as you are forced to run their operating system on overpriced, antiquated hardware, limiting creativity and exploration for an illusion of stability and security. It is equivalent to saying that a horse is a better mode of transportation than a car, as it is more stable and lasts longer. (This notion even holds to this day. I have built computers for people which outperform Apple products for a fraction of the costs.) Clearly, this did not satisfy my thirst for knowledge, so I returned to Windows in due time to continue on my quest to figure out how computers work.

Once I had gotten away from cold and capricious environment of Apple computing, I was given the opportunity of buying my own computer. I had a tighter budget than I had liked (of course, any budget is too tight for me when it comes to buying new technology) so I had to do hours of research in order to ensure a successful purchase. My nights were spent looking up the differences between AMD and Intel processors, the value of using an NVIDIA graphics card against that of Radeon for various games and applications, the bottlenecks that would be associated with using more RAM of a lower clock speed or less RAM with a higher clock speed. In many ways, my search for the perfect computer is comparable to a car enthusiast’s search for the perfect car. A processor is just like the engine of a car. It’s where most of the power comes from, can have multiple cores / cylinders, and can be overclocked / turbocharged by forcing more air / electricity through it. The motherboard is like the chassis, as it is the frame from which everything else is built upon. The RAM could be analogous to tires, as faster clock speeds can keep you on the road driving harder and longer than you otherwise could. The graphics card is like a stiff, sporty suspension. You don’t need it to for day to day tasks unless you are trying to fly around corners as fast as possible at the track. After countless nights grinding away at Newegg reviews and Tom’s Hardware forums, I finally got a rig that would give me a warm feeling of triumph and joy every time I used it. Eventually, I got into programming, which gave me an even greater insight into the function of the computer as I was finally seeing the software side of technology as opposed to hardware.

Unfortunately, I am the exception and not the rule. Most people are not interested in computer science or even mere technological literacy. It makes me cringe every time I see an unsuspecting person become a victim of the ostentatious marketing ploys of tech companies. Why would someone pay thousands of dollars for an Apple computer when they could have easily built their own for a fraction of the cost? Why would someone go to the Geek Squad or similar companies for something as elementary as a power supply failure, driver issues, or malware when the solution is right at their fingertips? Often times, people use the same excuses for automobiles: it is easier to let someone else deal with the problem, it is too complicated, etc. However, just like how replacing the brake pads, battery, and alternator are simple repairs to do on a car, most computer problems can be solved by using a little common sense, patience, and research. Doing so makes you more educated and saves you time and money in the long run. Of course, you could run from the problem, buy an Apple product, or go to an “expert” and pretend like the problem is fixed; however, in the long run, you will only be cheating yourself.

So, the next time your computer slows down or gets an error message, what are you going to do? Just as Morpheus explained to Neo in The Matrix, “You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I'm offering is the truth – nothing more.” As a young boy, I took the red pill, and I haven’t looked back since. This is your last chance. Which pill will you choose?

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