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Stop the information superhighway, I want to get off

I am a vagrant on the information superhighway _ a loiterer with an attitude. I have had, however, an okay relationship with a word processor called Rayedit. It understands that all I want to do is write 750 words three times a week. Now Ray and I are being forced apart, and I have been introduced to a flashy contraption that wants to run my life.

I don't even know its name. Sometimes it's "Windows," and sometimes "Roadrunner." It is very complicated, but I guess that complication spells progress in the computer world, where change, and particularly difficult change, gets you a big score and big orders.

We had a five-hour training class in Windows the other day. We were introduced to a mouse _ yes, that's high-tech whimsy, a little object with a wire out of the top for a tail; you move it around on a pad and click it, sometimes twice. These presses must be very rapid, says the "quick reference card," or "Windows will interpret the action as Choosing rather than Opening."

It was all downhill from there. I learned how to "maximize" my paintbrush and to play solitaire. I'm not sure why, but this is a wraparound service that for all I know fixes parking tickets.

Not a word was said about signing on, writing a story and signing off; that's where Roadrunner comes in. Anyway, I was shown how to find "dictionary" and save myself three steps to the Webster's and to avoid going to the library _excuse me, the News Research Center _ for a chat with Marylou and the gang.

It was a lot of information, and if we didn't appreciate it, it's because we learned a long time ago that the first step in writing is to clear your mind _ forget about the cleaners and the icy sidewalk and keeping your word to a child and finding fresh raspberries and making your way to Virginia. You have to sweep it clean, which is not easy when you're involved with "cascading windows."

In the middle of all this _ Roadrunner students warning us about weird placement of quotation marks, signing on twice and choosing "baskets" _ we are moving to another floor. We stumble over cartons. We leaf through old files. It took me an afternoon to do just A and B: "Abortion" isn't over, nor is "adoption," and you can't throw away "Barry, Marion," because our former mayor, whose vicissitudes and romances fill folders, may run again.

Ray came without a mouse. He thought it was okay for me to press the keys without an emissary. He didn't mind my going to the library. He never thought my time was all that valuable, and there was no ominous chat about "floppy discs." Ray knows he is nearly through, and he's testy. When I press "get," he growls, "No such story."

That's when I go and find Diane. She is a redhaired angel masquerading as a systems manager. She loves computers but does not hold it against me that I do not. "Think of it as a friend," she counsels. When Ray acts up, she comes in and gives it a look of questioning concern, the kind a mother directs at a child who is writing on the wall with a crayon. No glares, no curses; she gently taps a key or two and Ray straightens up.

Diane believes in amazing grace. She thinks she can teach me Roadrunner.

While the new machine is teaching me to wind down my human contacts, I have a new office that also discourages them. It is at the end of a short hall and has no windows _ not even to other offices without windows. It has the feeling of Dien Bien Phu _ or a punishment cell.

I know my sins. I broke publicly with a Toshiba in the Bush press room in Budapest. It refused to take copy from a heretic, and stopped sending after one paragraph. I just called up Olwen in the dictation department and read it to her _ a practice I continued through the 1992 campaign.

I have also, when being interviewed by aspiring journalists, said foolish things: Latin helps you understand English, and poetry acquaints you with the art of distillation, which used to be a concern for newspapers. From now on, I'm advocating computer manuals and subscriptions to Popular Mechanics. Forget composition, concentrate on transmission.

So if the signal from my cave at the end of the road gets as faint as Dien Bien Phu and one fine day there's another name at the top of this space, you'll know what happened. I've lost too many arguments with a mouse and I have gradually lost touch with the human race.

Universal Press Syndicate