Graphic Violence

The man’s voice sounded innocent enough over the phone. "Hi, my name is Sam Iam. My son Ishtar goes to school with your Nebuchadnezzar. We’d like to invite your kid over to play this afternoon."

I should have suspected something when Neb, on hearing where he was going, responded in his five year old way, "Ishtar? Yeeck!" But I didn’t suspect, and I bundled the kid up and stuck him in the car. In a few minutes, we were ringing a doorbell not far from our own home.

Sam Iam and his five year old Ishtar opened the door together. It was only then that I realized that I had walked into a trap. Both father and son were wearing identical blue suits with red ties. It was a multi-generational software sales team!

"Lincoln, Nebuchadnezzar, glad to meet both of you," said the older Iam with all the sincerity of a politician promising to the balance the budget. "Come on in. Ishtar, why don’t you show little Nebi that new game, Post-Nuclear Mutant Pirates, while I talk to his daddy?"

"I was just going to drop Neb off and go home," I started to explain. "When do you want me to pi…"

"Nonsense," said the older Iam as the two kids headed for the Mac II in the hallway, "while you’re here, you might as well look at the new word processing program my company’s working on. Did I mention that I’m a sales rep for MicroDot Software?"

Before I had quite figured out what was happening, I was sitting in his study, staring at a 14" multiscan monitor. "We’re calling the program Executive Image," Iam explained as he loaded the program from the DOS prompt, "which we believe emphasizes how different it is from your average word processor. Let me bring up a file."

Character by bit-mapped character, a screenful of blue text appeared on the pink background of the screen. Then, after what seemed like an endless wait, the menus appeared at the top of the screen.

"What sort of computer are you running this on?" I asked.

"A 25 Mhz ‘386," he explained. "But it will work just as well on an AT. A bit slower, of course.

"Let me explain a bit of the philosophy of Executive Image," he continued. "The modern computer user has concerns that would have been inconceivable in prehistoric times. He needs to be able to select fonts with ease, make particular words stand out, mix graphics in with his text, and generally distract his readers from the content of his writing. Executive Image answers these needs. And because it is mouse-driven and graphically-based, it answers them in a way that most people can understand."

I spent the next twenty minutes watching him do tricks that have been common on the Macintosh for years. "Well," he finally asked, "what do you think?"

"Interesting. How does your spell checker work?" I asked.

He looked a little embarrassed. "To be honest," he said, "we don’t have one. We had to give up a few things in order to fit the Thousand Word Feature into memory. Have I shown you the Thousand Word? It’s our answer to macros. It can take any bitmapped image and reproduced it anywhere in your document with one keystroke. We feel that if anyone’s going to reproduce something, it’s probably a graphic."

"I see. How do you know where you are?"

"Beg pardon?"

"I don’t see a status line," I explained. "How do I know what line I’m on, not to mention what page?"

"Well, line numbers are sort of irrelevant in a graphic environment. For instance," he explained, pointing to a line in the middle of a paragraph that was, for some unexplained reason, 42 points high, "what would you call this?"

"A mess. But what page am I on?"

"Page one."

"Fine. How do I know that?"

"You’re always on page one," he explained. "You see, the point of Executive Image is to help the user produce as readable a document as possible. Studies have shown that one page documents get read much more thoroughly than multi-page documents. So we have set up this word processor so that it cannot produce a single document longer than one page."

"And if someone needs to write a two thousand word document?" I asked.

"The point size is adjusted, accordingly. Look," he went on, reacting to the skepticism in my face, "you’re a writer. You make demands on a word processor that the average user doesn’t make. Surveys have shown that most word processing is done by secretaries, and we designed this program with them in mind."

"And have you tested this with secretaries?" I asked.

"Yes, in fact, we did. For three months, we had all of the secretaries at MicroDot use a beta version of Executive Image?"

"How’d they like it?"

"The survey, I’m sorry to say, was not conclusive. We had a 400% turnover in our secretarial pool during that quarter. But that’s irrelevant, anyway, because secretaries have no say as to what word processors they use."

***

On the way home, I asked Nebuchadnezzar what he thought of Post-Nuclear Mutant Pirates. "Yuck!" he answered. "Ishtar kept telling me what a wonderful game it was. But it was the stupidest, boringest, yuckiest game I ever played!"

My kid, alright.

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