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The meaning of life

Tags: English, essays, life
Created on Thu, 12 May 2016

This is the stupidest question one can ask. Why?

Imagine you are given your first computer. You are told that you could pretty much do anything with it. You can play games, program, learn anything there is to be learnt about the Universe, you can watch videos or explore the filesystem. You can build stuff or entertain yourself. Or you could not turn it on at all. What do you do?

I know what I did when I got my first computer. Before I got it, I was excited - I thought I could do anything - animations or tell it to bake me a pie. All information I got was from watching "Dexter's laboratory" and imagining things. Alas, I still can't do many of these things, but I am getting better.

When I actually got it, on the 8th of February 2000, I was jumping like crazy. I was 8 then. We got it as a second hand from my father's colleague. Two guys came in to bring a bulky 15" CRT monitor, keyboard, something small like a joystick (a ball mouse), half-broken speakers, a mystery box and a bunch of cables. I asked what was the mystery box for and they said it was some sort of power unit. Awesome! Let's connect all this and get it started so that I can control my apartment!

Well, not so fast. As the guys were connecting the things (I so didn't want them to - I wanted to play with it and understand how to connect it) they told me the worst thing they can tell an 8 year old about computers.

"I don't know how but if you press the wrong buttons you can make it explode. So be careful!"

Holy crap! The excitement was substituted by fear but never the less I slowly started poking at it, fearing I can make it explode. But there was no one to explain me what am I supposed to do - no books, no videos, no youtube, in fact - no Internet at all (at the time it was a thing only rich people with massive phone bills could use). My mum and dad could not be less interested in this thing but my mum promised to buy me a book. This would take several days. Who could wait that long‽ So I started exploring...

Keep in mind, I am Bulgarian, the computer was in English which I did not understand and the first day I spend understanding how I can move the small mouse to represent motion on the screen by the little arrow. I clicked. And then double clicked. And when I clicked on little images, new images appeared inside of rectangles. At the right corner of the rectangle there were images of _, [ ] and X. I soon realized I could click on them and they appeared on all rectangles. I didn't really understand the difference between _ and X at the time and that puzzled me for a long time.

I continued clicking on images and some of them created rectangles with other images, other created rectangles with text inside and some of them did not do anything at all. I remember trying to use the keyboard for a while when I was inside of one of these text boxes and then I started realizing a difference between _ and X. The _ didn't do anything when I typed things but X popped another rectangle with something ending in ? (so a question) and three options. I knew enough English from watching Cartoon Network (no subtitles) to understand the first two - Yes and No. But the third one puzzled me. It seemed to do nothing. (In retrospect, I think I was editing .INI files. Good that it didn't explode then!).

On the second day through random clicking I saw an image of a TV. I got excited - maybe I can watch TV in my own room through the computer! I had to run to school but I promised myself I would try to watch TV tonight. Let me brief you that TV was my life when I was a kid. But we had only one in my parents room and whenever they went to bed, I couldn't watch anything. Or if they wanted to watch the most boring thing in the world (called News) - I couldn't watch my animations :( So naturally, I was so excited, I didn't care what happened in school that day, the only thing I dreamed about is watching TV in my own room!

I got home and I went to my father and told him I wanted to show him something. I was so convinced I am going to watch TV tonight (my mom was at work)! My dad is great at being my dad, awesome joker and has generally gave me the science spirit by explaining every day something interesting about the world I had thought to ask. But to this day, he has no interest or understanding of the computer besides browsing for news. Also, he is quite the pessimist.

Anyway, he comes to the room and asks me what am I going to show him. He tells me to be careful not to explode it. I get a bit worried but I am confident that I am going to watch TV. So I press the button that opens a rectangle on the bottom of the screen, click on the TV icon and...

The screen goes slowly goes darker from the top. I get scared for a split second but then a rectangle with some words and buttons appear. I see the familiar Yes/No/whatever buttons and I say out loud "Yes, I want to watch TV"! The arrow turns into an hour glass. The rectangle dissappears. Then the screen flashes dark. I can't move the pointer - there is no pointer! Then it shows the blue screen that I see when I start the computer. And then - black screen with orange letters.

"It is now safe to turn off your computer"

I don't know what that means of course. It looks very, very scary!

My dad fears I broke it. I fear it will explode. I shake. I turn the power switch and everything goes black. My dad tells me "Well, did you have fun for 2 days? No more computer, it's broken now, the people told you you could".

I almost cry. My dad goes to his room and I am afraid to push the button again. What if it explodes? But then I start thinking... It shouldn't explode. No way. People work on computers all the time and my dad watches tons of news. I never heard people dying from exploding computers. But I am cautious. I press the button. The computer powers on as awlays. I am happy again! I rush to the living room telling my dad that it was fine, the computer still works! My dad just cautious me to be careful but I have grown a bit more confident.

Two days later, I get the book titles "Windows 95". It talks about all sort of weird stuff that seem to me too advanced - OLE objects and I don't know what but I learn about the Start menu. And the X button. I still don't get _ but now I learn how to open Paint. Well, that defined the rest of my childhood until I got Internet... I asked my mom that I need a more basic book about computers and she found me one. "First steps with computers" and on page 5 was the sentence that defined what I will do with my computer. There was a little box with a happy computer on the page saying simply:

"Don't worry what you do with your computer - you can never break it beyond repair unless you take a hammer and start hitting it."

That.... Sentence.... Calmed me dooooown. Now it was time to experiment with everything and anything!

Still, I broke it several times - never with the hammer but with my actions. These were complicated actions and it was at the time that involved the Internet and I was downloading things I didn't really get.

But through this, I learnt how to reinstall Operating systems. By then I was kind of speaking some basic English and started understanding what is happening. Once I got that, I did this all the time - for fun! Anytime my computer starts getting slow, I would re-install. Sometimes I would reinstall several times a day! I loved the clean state, it was like I got a brand new computer. Knowing I can always get to working state, This lead me to installing random things, whatever I wanted. And one of these things was Q-Basic... The rest, as they say is history...

Why did I tell you this story? Because it's up to you what do you want to make out of your life. "The Meaning of life" question, as Deep Thought in H2G2 said is absolutely meaningless! You would never ask such a question about anything else physical. "What is the meaning of a general purpose computer?". For some it would be fun, for other it would be learning, exploration, other like my dad would not even care about it. It's up to you! For me its mainly exploration and having fun at the same time. Trying things, poking life, poking the Universe, pressing buttons I understand and I don't. And unless I get a hammer, nothing in my brain software is irreversable. I can always change, I can always install a new operating system. I can always try new things, explore or use Paint for 5 years so that I can get better at it (I know how to do pretty much everything in that little program - even things like gradients, you would be surprised!).

I know it's a cliche that life is what you make of it - but in the past few months I've been in a darker place trying to answer myself this question. Until I realized the question was meaningless and useless. And I just started enjoying it, poking it, not allowing people to put an operating system to me. Some days I like Linux, some days I like Windows (10 is surprising me very pleasantly!) Some days I like to be a physicist, another - a programmer. Some days I like to enjoy swimming, other - to work for 15 hours. I like travelling, learning, trying new things and pressing the buttons of life. What do you like?