My struggles with information technology

Given my age and educational background, it is understandable that I struggle with information technology.

The company I once worked for was among the first companies in Cameroon to provide computers for its employees back in the 1990s. Those were generally huge desktop boxes that took up a sizeable space on my desk, and took forever to boot. The first time one was placed on my desk, I watched it with a mixture of awe and fascination. Awe, because I had no idea what to do with it, neither did anyone else around me, for that matter; fascination, because a thing we had only been reading about in the papers was actually sitting on my desk, and I could reach out and touch and fondle it. It was a little scary, though. Manual typewriters, that had been then in vogue, were still being gradually replaced by electric typewriters when the computer made its aggressive intrusion into our work spaces.

As the feeling of fascination began to wane, the practical phase popped up: how was I to use that box sitting on my desk to produce work. The technical department organised in-house training sessions. When that didn’t seem to work too well, employees preferring to stay in their offices instead of attending the training, outside assistance was sought. A Catholic technical school, Collège de la Salle, with sparkling training credentials in the technical field, was hired and served as our training ground away from the main office. It was there that I learnt to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. To this day, nearly thirty years later, I am still struggling to master all the features of Microsoft Word, which I use everyday. For want of regular use, I have almost forgotten how Excel and PowerPoint work.

A friend with whom I was struggling to master the computer told me a funny story. One day, when he was home and working on a document, he got stuck and asked his son to show him what to do. The young man and some of his friends were in his room playing computer games and loudly celebrating their successes in the General Certificate of Education (GCE) ‘O’ Levels, whose results had just been released. He said the excitement in his house, and in the neighbourhood, was thick in the air as his son’s friends were streaming in to join in the computer games.

He said that he must have called his son to his rescue three or four times. Each time, it was “Dad, please!” He would rush in, grumbling that his dad was interrupting his game; then he would quickly push a button here and there and rush out. As soon as he left, my friend would sit staring at the screen, wondering what his son had just explained. When he called his son for the fourth time, the young man looked at him with pity in his eyes and said: “Dad, what is wrong with you?  What is so difficult in this? When you get to this point, press this button, then press shift and the tab button.  I don’t see what’s so difficult in that! “ Before rushing back to his game, he turned round and asked: “Dad, are you sure you passed the GCE?”

His question caught my friend completely off-guard. He found himself fumbling for words. Then he screamed, “What are you talking about, young man? I wrote the London GCE, not this thing you people are writing from Buea. Do you know who signed my GCE certificate? It was an English man!” He said he must have sounded rather foolish for his son merely shook his head and said, “Good try, dad; but I’m not sure you passed it. You can’t even understand something as simple as that!”

Before my friend could say another word, his son was gone and he could hear him in the other room telling his friends that his daddy understood nothing in the computer. His friends all chimed in with similar stories of how their own parents understood nothing in the computer either. Pity rang out in their voices.

“Would you have said such a thing to your old man when you were growing up?” he asked me. We all burst out in laughter. “I don’t know about your own old man,” I said, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes; “If I ever talked back to my own father the way our children talk to us these days, I would leave his presence with a broken jaw.” Then with a literary flourish, he said, “Isn’t that so, my brother? Here I am, struggling over a computer, and listening to the fruit of the hard labour of my own loins, my own son, casting doubt over my intellectual capacity; can you believe that?” All we could do was drown our frustration in laughter and in the froth of beer.

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