66 - When Computers Were New,  also, The Wicnic (Wiccan Picnic)

Witch with Lute

I am not, socially, mainstream. I developed, early on, a fascination with computers and that fascination soon translated into useful job skills. My hobbies, alas, often become jobs. Computers arrived before the computer-skilled staff at my workplace. As the only computer hobbyist on board, I became, for a brief time, the computer Guru in Residence. I wore my crown lightly, being more interested in the technology than my temporary fame.

I formed a User-group, a place where people could share knowledge on, then very new, technology. We met in the main boardroom. Reluctant secretaries were pressured into going to these meetings by their bosses. We talked about the new technology and computer programs. It soon became clear who were the front runners, and who were the reluctant technological tail draggers. My moment of glory would be brief. Those secretaries, once they learned a few necessary pieces of software, became the guardians of knowledge. This knowledge they fed in trickles to their bosses. Knowledge is power.

The word IT stands for Information Technology and it is the branch of engineering that deals with the use of computers and telecommunications to retrieve, store and transmit information LAN stands for Local Area Network which is a local computer network for communication between computers; especially a network connecting computers and word processors.

The new IT staff were on their way. All at sea, management got it half right. They hired a very capable woman to teach all of us, secretaries and officers, word processing. We were unaware of the underlying scheme to have the guys do their own typing, and the great downsizing of secretaries that was to follow.

Their second choice, for the LAN and IT Manager, was not so lucky. They listened to all the candidates and chose the most verbally accessible. He was what we used to call in CB lingo, a “bucket mouth”. Good technical staff are often taciturn to the point of near muteness. Management chose a man with a great line of bull about how great he was, zero social skills and a little programming knowledge. This was a recipe for disaster. Techs tend to be either hardware or software guys. Some can handily combine both but, often, this is not the case. Edward was a hardware guy in a software position.

The company hired outsiders to come in and wire up the LAN. Edward’s job was to make the software run and work with us, the oddly named, ‘end users’.

I was doing most of the software support in my division and, tired of being lied to, said to him once, “Edward Go piss up a rope!” The phrase was new to me. I thought it was very funny. Edward didn’t. His large and fragile ego was punctured, and I became his enemy for life. Fine with me. I worked better without him.

When the computers were rolled out it was management that got them first. My boss, then, was of the ‘father knows best’ school of management. He favoured liquid lunches once a week on Thursdays. After such a lunch he would come r-o-ll-i-n-g back to the office, tanked to the gills and would sit behind his desk, planning great plans. He had his new computer placed behind him, where he could not see it. It was always turned off, except when I logged into his account and printed his email for him, all of it, whether of interest or not, both English and French, ALL his email. Many a tree was sacrificed to this man’s refusal to view his monitor. “Sonia, I feel like it’s watching me,” he told me once in confidence.

As an aside, managers, to a lesser extent and, more importantly, top brass had visions. No humble officer or support staff member would dare to have a vision. In the case of the lower orders such a vision might be categorized as an hallucination. Every year, certainly, and possibly every six months, we got a new vision to implement. These visions were vague enough to be one size fits all. I suspected that they sprang full-grown from the inebriated minds of executives after a Thursday liquid lunch.

An unrelated Anarchist vision I recall said “Put the tools of production in the hands of the workers”. Looking back to my old office I can see that the introduction of desktop computers fitted quite handily into this vision. Top-down management was about to take a lesson from the bottom-up democracy, fostered by computers but that, as Kipling would say, “is another story”.

Administration thought that computers were for word processing and accounting and all manner of serious stuff. I knew they were for web surfing, gaming, email and organizing people in niche groups.

Some early adopters of the Internet and computers were journalists. These newspaper people had to slap the rubber cups from their luggable computers onto a pay phone and send the ‘story’ back to the mother ship.

Then there were the pagans…… Why pagans? Well, Paganism appeals to computer guys and gals. Given the power of communication they did not seek to proselytize. (As the Jewish vampire said to the blond lady waving a cross at him, “Sorry, lady, I’m not that kind of vampire) Instead they saw it as a means to share texts of importance to the initiated and, more importantly, as a great way to socialize. Although many pagans are solitaries they like to club together for social events. One great social event of the year, for us, was the annual WicNic.

Now, there was a reason so many techno-pagans were solitaries. “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.” Little covens and special groups of brethren breed rivalries that can become deadly when mixed with off-brand religious beliefs. Such groups are also havens for little Jim Jones emulators and other tin-pot messiahs. If you want to believe the great god Pan has returned, then you might also believe that Brother Joe is incarnating him which is a sobering thought. Cyber pagans are remarkably free of such delusions. There is something about the terseness of text messaging that takes the punch out of declarations of godhood. Also, the logical training of the computer literate causes them to question such assertions or ignore them.

Back to the WicNic:

The WicNic was an annual affair organized through the Homestead Knowledge Bulletin Board System (or BBS, an early, local Internet Forum). I was the communications arm. I collected email addresses and send out bulletins to the effect that “The WicNic is coming, Hooray, Hoorah!!” then I would give out the particulars.

We had to be in a Park with a fire pit, for which we would obtain official permission. Knowing the drill, we would drift into the area in twos and threes, until a critical mass was reached. Then we would form a circle and participate in whatever home-brew circle ceremony the nominal priest and priestess had prepared for our edification.

The ceremony I best remember was created by the System Operator (Sysop) of Homestead BBS and involved a technical metaphor comparing life and its troubles to a computer system, most especially the hard drive.

“Spin, Spin, Spin. Protect us from all viruses and malware. Defend us from the Ad Bots and Spyware, defragment and join back together the broken bits of our lives. Optimize us that we may function well. Blessed be our zeros and ones, so we may prosper.”

All present understood the technical references and grooved on their spiritual application.

My limited computer skills have been bolstered all along by kind souls who actually understand the technology. I count such folks as friends. I appreciate logic and clarity. I also appreciate the willful abandonment of the same when having a good time in a park with cyber friends I otherwise seldom saw in person. Our mutual and somewhat comical suspension of disbelief for ceremonial purposes was welcome as was the shop talk and community gossip.

As I write my section of the globe is in the cold grasp of a late winter. Although I have moved on, I miss casual commingling with my cyber friends on warm summer days and sitting about the fireside with food and drink and laughter. I wrote this song back in 1972 before I knew much at all about Paganism. I must have channelled it.

( Am G F E )

The pale moon is riding alone o’er the trees
The doves are all resting in dark boweries
I call to my love come away
Quench the lamp it reminds me of day
Come away, come away,
There’s no reason to stay. Come away.

I will plait you a garland of damp forest leaves
We will not be alone in the wild forest trees
The Sabboth of Night comes as last
We will dance in a ring on the grass
We will dance in a ring and we’ll merrily sing. Come away.

We will dance for the man with the horns of a stag
The bonfire burns brightly, my lover, don’t lag
We will drink from a free flowing cup
With the wind and the flames we rise up
With the wind and the flames we will rise to our games. Come away.

The Lord that you know is the Lord of a day
When children are laughing and light in their play
Come away to the games of the night
The darkness will hide us from sight
And the Master we know is older than he of the day

Come away, come away there’s no reason to stay.
Come away.
We will dance in a ring and we’ll merrily sing.
Come away.
With the wind and the flames we will rise to our games.
Come away.

© Sonia Fricker Brock (1972)

Wavy Line

© Sonia Brock 2008

Feed: https://www.soniabrock.com/Podcasts/chatham1.xml