Digital Sea by
(220 Stories)

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

I am drowning in a digital sea
I am slipping beneath the sound
Here my voice goes to ones and zeros
I’m slipping beneath the sound
~Thrice, 2007

I am drowning in a digital sea, I am slipping beneath the sound, Here my voice goes to ones and zeros.

Coincidentally, I learned a new word this week while playing Words With Friends which seemed a propos. Digerati is defined as “people with expertise or professional involvement in information technology.” It earned my opponent 71 points. I asked him “Did you know that word, or were you just putting up tiles randomly to see what worked?” Since putting up tiles randomly is a technique I often use, I thought that might have been how he stumbled on it. But he replied “That’s a pretty widely known word these days, at least around these parts.” (He lives in Berkeley, so not really different parts.) Wikipedia tells me that the word is a portmanteau, derived from “digital” and “literati.” Good to know!

As it happens, I have been interested in computers since the early days. In college I took a computer course called Nat Sci 110 just for fun, where we learned a few programming languages, like Basic, Fortran, Cobol, and Snobol. The computer was as big as a room, and we used punch cards that we fed into it. That’s all I remember about the course, and I doubt that anything I learned then would be applicable to computers now anyway.

You may remember the PDA (no, not a public display of affection, but a personal digital assistant), which was a device that people used before all those functions were built into phones. There was one called a PalmPilot that was introduced in 1996. My son Ben wanted one more than anything else for his bar mitzvah in 2001, so a bunch of friends chipped in and got him one. I’m not sure how much he used it, if at all. While I never had a PalmPilot, I did have a Palm Desktop, which was a computer program for Windows or Mac that had the same features – contact list, calendar, tasks, and notes. I had all my contacts’ addresses and phone numbers saved there, and more importantly, all of my passwords, as well as miscellaneous other bits of useful information. I relied on it for close to twenty years. Then one day, maybe two or three years ago, I went to look for something and it was blank. Every single piece of information stored there had disappeared. And there was no way to get it back. So on every site I frequented, I had to use the “forgot my password” procedure. Then I wrote the new ones down on paper, just like in the old days. At least a piece of paper can’t suddenly go blank!

There was a wonderful show called The IT Crowd that was on British television between 2006 and 2010. My daughter Sabrina introduced us to it when she came home from her first stint in the UK in 2010. She had it on DVDs, but they were in the region 2 format, so we couldn’t play them on our American DVD player hooked up to the television set, we had to watch them on her tiny British portable one, with a screen about 4″ x 6″. The show centered on two geeky guys who were the IT department of their company. This was before I even knew what IT was – I kept calling the show “the it crowd” because I thought it was the word “it” rather than the initials I and T. Anyway, one of the running jokes on the show was that every time one of them answered the phone, knowing the call had to be from someone with a computer problem, he said “Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?” before the other person said anything. It was only much later that I discovered that, in fact, that often IS the way to solve a problem with the computer.

The most helpless I have ever felt in the face of misbehaving technology has been on this site. When I took over Retrospect in 2019, what I was most concerned about was dealing with the technology. My predecessor, John Zussman, assured me that he would be around to help, at least for the first year, and that also we had an excellent web design firm called FireSpike that could handle any problems that came up. I was amused and reassured to see that FireSpike’s slogan is “Taking the @#! out of the WWW.” And in fact they have been great, although their hourly rate is not cheap!

I was hoping to look back through all the “tickets” I have filed on FireSpike, to see the communication back and forth about each problem that occurred.  Unfortunately, after the ticket is closed, you can’t see anything more than the topic. But here are a few of the 33 topics we have needed help on:

Change to Home Page
New User Can’t Register
Spam Email Sent Out by Bogus User
Please Disable Private Messaging
Follower Story Notifications Not Working
Comment Function Not Working
Missing Notifications

It’s frustrating not to be able to handle any of these things myself. There have been other issues raised by authors that I actually have been able to solve myself, which was very satisfying. But mostly I just have to rely on FireSpike, and be grateful that I have them, and that they generally are able to deal with the problem immediately, even if I contact them on the weekend. If I ever create another website (highly unlikely), I hope I can make it simple enough so that I am able to do everything on it myself.


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What I loved most about this comprehensive story is its combination of things that I knew about and things that I never knew about.

    In the former column is Nat Sci 110 (I didn’t take it, but my roomie Bob did and I used to drive him to the very distant computer lab three times a day/night to submit his punch cards and see if they could write poetry); PalmPilots (I had one, but it took forever just to enter in a single meeting or contact); and, yes, Retro IT issues cheerfully resolved by the Retro administrator and whoever was behind the magic curtain.

    In the latter column is the term “digerati,” though it certainly makes sense (and I note that the speller must have gotten the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles); “The IT Crowd” (and I thought I had streamed every British series by now); and the song used for the title of the story (though the cited lyrics are perfect).

    Thanks for all this technology enlightenment!

    • Suzy says:

      John, I love the way you divided my story into three things that you knew about and three things that you didn’t. I was worried that my story was too scattered, but instead you called it “comprehensive.” Thanks for a great comment!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your new word “digerati,” Suzy. And I totally relate to your password problem. I could write a whole story on that one. On the recommendation of my computer guru back in the day, I put all of mine on an excel sheet and printed out the most frequent ones. I posted that list next to the computer, which seemed sensible to me. A digerati friend just told me to hide it. Anyone who comes into your house to fix anything could take a picture of that list on their phone. Oops! Good thing I haven’t had many repair people due to the pandemic.

    • Suzy says:

      Passwords are the bane of my existence. I understand why they are necessary, but I sure wish we could do without them. Luckily, all the sites I visit regularly now automatically fill in my password if I am on my home computer.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    On my first job, I was the one who typed those punch cards and took them to an off-site computer for processing. Ah, the old days. But I still don’t know anything about programming. Good for you for actually learning those (now old) languages.

    You’ve given us a great look at lots of scenarios where technology applied, most recently Retrospect, which you are doing a great job of keeping humming along. I am very impressed that you could resolve issues on your own. Big kudos!

    I understand your password problem. Dan stores his in a spreadsheet on his computer (which I don’t think is safe; and every once in a while I make him print out the whole thing in my “what happens if you’re hit by a bus scenario”). I go with your current scenario and write them all down on paper! However, I had a run-in with a photo-sharing site just yesterday. We had a marvelous camp Zoom last week which became quite nostalgic. The moderator put up a site for us to share all our old photos (and even more current ones from on-site reunions). There are so many fun ones up now; I wanted to show a friend from my iPad, so I tried to log-in. Again – I wrote down my password, but the site said it wasn’t correct, so I asked for an email to change it. The email never came. I tried many times. I emailed our moderator for help. He tried; no dice. It appears the site is no longer active and I can’t get into it from any place other than my original log-in. Technology is great, but only when it works!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, Betsy, you have a whole other story about that photo-sharing site! How strange that it’s no longer active, and yet you can still get into it from your original log-in. Another mystery of technology. And I love your last sentence, so true!

  4. Marian says:

    I confess, Suzy, that I use an Excel sheet to track my passwords, and I print it and put it in my desk drawer. Love the full review of technology through the ages. Why is it that the tech folks think we all have nothing to do but use their particular website?

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I was shadowing you down this memory lane of early codes, punch cards, Palm Pilots and passwords–all so familiar! I had a job where I had to enter data on punch cards and my long hair got caught in the card reader–had to yank it hard and fast to avoid following it into the maw. Kudos to you for taking on the Retrospect oversight!

  6. Dear Suzy,

    Thanx for the “digerati” Scrabble tip, and for handling all the Retro headaches you have to deal with to keep this wonderful website going.

    New User Can’t Register

  7. Risa Nye says:

    This reminded me of one of my college roommates who would bring home boxes of punch cards from the “lab” where he spent many a late night. Isn’t it amazing how (relatively) quickly it all changed? Good for you for battling the bugs yourself when you can!

  8. Let us not forget the glitterati, a double portmanteau.

    Was the Palm Pilot the one where you used a little stylus to make marks in a type of shorthand? I remember my brother doing that and being so proud of his hard-earned skill. As I recall, it took him quite a while to finally give it up in favor of newer (and vastly easier) technology.

    I’m actually in awe of your ability to understand the messages we get from FireSpike. Thankfully, between you and Mare (and JZ), you figure it all out, while Laurie and I cheer you on. Brava, fearless leader…you are the best, and you are very much appreciated!

    • Suzy says:

      Not sure why you call glitterati a double portmanteau. Isn’t it just glitter + literati? Yes, it was the PalmPilot that had a special alphabet that you used with a stylus. I almost included a picture of that alphabet in my story, but since I actually only used the desktop version it didn’t seem applicable.

      Thanks for your appreciation of my leadership. I’m always apprehensive when I see a message from DreamHost, but it generally seems to work out okay.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I have a deep distrust of digital storage. My ultimate password backup of last resort is a small Rolodex on my desk. The passwords are written down like this: (Street I lived on when I was 2)(Standard Modifier)(# of house in Jersey City)(Hated gym teacher)

  10. I’d say your ability to technologize Retro is very impressive. Are you sure that Digerati isn’t really the name of a speedy Italian computer? I do remember when Palm Pilots were all the rage, but I never owned one. And now I’m going to turn my computer off and restart it. Just for the fun of it!

    • Suzy says:

      I can’t take any credit for technologizing Retro, that was all John Zussman’s doing. And with “technologize” you have introduced me to another new word. I think Digerati should be a speedy Italian sportscar, probably all electric.

  11. John Zussman says:

    Suzy, I enjoyed hearing about all your tech tribulations, but mostly I’m glad you braved the waters and plunged into your Retrospect role where you had to face them regularly! Without your fearlessness, we would not still have Retrospect as a place to tell these stories!

    In my story, when I talked about doing well in my one computer class in college? That was Nat Sci 110 as well. I didn’t take it until senior year, when the punch cards had been replaced by teletype terminals in basements all over campus.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, John! Now I’m trying to remember when I took Nat Sci 110. I guess it must have been junior year, but I couldn’t say for sure. Funny how some college memories are so clear, and others are pretty murky.

Leave a Reply