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Other Voices: Applying for a Grant from the Gates

Recent television interviews of Bill Gates as he announced his retirement from Microsoft have once again shown him to be a sincere, modest, happy-natured family man. Through the Gates Foundation he has declared his intention to share his vast wealth to make the world a better place. Who can quarrel with his philanthropic intent or deny his commitment? One can only admire Bill’s prodigious talent and strive to emulate his creative, hard-working ways. Aside from the late beloved Mr. Rogers, there is no one else one can think of who would be more welcome in anybody’s neighborhood.

On the other hand, it is well to remember that Bill Gates also conceived of his gigantic Microsoft Corporation as a vehicle for improving our overall quality of life. In many ways he has no doubt succeeded, probably beyond even his wildest dreams, but in the process he has also drastically altered our lifestyle and thereby created some areas of utter desolation.

The thing is, Bill is a genius, which means that he is congenitally incapable of recognizing that other people, even those who have heretofore been judged mentally competent, often find it impossible to follow his thought processes. A genius never seems to realize how much smarter he is than other people, especially when he is surrounded by cadres of other geniuses (and young nerdish children!) who do appear to understand most of what he’s talking about. Bear in mind that Gates enjoys high-level, recreational chess and that he becomes rhapsodic when talking about software applications which are far more mystifying and multi-dimensional than chess is. Accept that he will undoubtedly be remembered as the Franz Liszt of the computer world; he began with what now appears to be a simple theme and developed variations of dizzying complexity which he then generously invited others to go ahead and play.



The truth is that Bill Gates, in all innocence and without any apparent misgivings, has been guilty of destroying the serenity and self-confidence of a large segment of our population. He has locked a whole host of us innocuous elderly people into a window-filled cyber-structure where the views we encounter are not only unfamiliar but strangely menacing. We become disoriented. With mounting panic we search for guidance. We turn to the emergency automated telephones provided for our convenience, only to have our feeble cries for help answered by remote, flat-voiced technicians who interpret the scenes before us in language we have never heard before. They advise us to study the signs posted all around us which they feel we ought to be able to read, because we know, or can at least sound out phonetically, what the words are. But the words form a context somehow indecipherable to us. Terrified, we search for the exit to the structure, only to come at last to the Kafka-esque realization that there is no way out. We are doomed to technology.

Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, one still seeks salvation. Perhaps the remedy for our isolation and enslavement lies within the Gates Foundation itself. Maybe what is needed is to solicit the sponsorship of the AARP and then employ a talented grant- writer, one who is of course fully competent in the Microsoft Word program, to document our plight and request assistance from the Foundation’s board of directors. Surely any institution dedicated to humanitarian aims must respond to the plea that the survival of the elderly depends upon at least a partial return to the slower-paced simplicity of yesteryear.




Our modest proposal might include the reinstatement of a universally reliable type of telephone with a live operator who could put us in direct touch with a kindly advisor who would speak to us in unaccented English, using a revised technological nomenclature which includes such understandable words as “doohickey” and “thingamajig.” Is this too much to ask?

Lucille K. Lovestedt lives in Grass Valley.


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