👍 Penn Jillette’s Surprising Success as a Computer Columnist

Liked Penn Jillette’s Surprising Success as a Computer Columnist (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

One of his first columns for the magazine, written in 1990 under the name “The Micro Mephisto,” is surprisingly relevant today. Jillette made a case for taking your computer and making it your own by heavily customizing, or “trashing,” it. A passage from that column:

No matter how you got your computer, you will never sell it. Why the hell would you sell it? Six months after you bought it, it wasn’t worth spit. How the hell could you sell it, it would be easier to unload used 8-track and beta tapes. Whatever you got on your desk or lap right now—there’s a faster and sexier one with more memory and a better display featured right here in this magazine.

So, tell me this, why the hell is that thang still beige? And if it’s not beige, why the hell is it still tan? And if it’s sleek, high-tech black … well, we know they saw you coming. I’ll tell you why it’s that same boring factory color—because you’re a coward. You’re afraid if you mess with it—someone is going to yell at you. That’s just wrong thinking. No one’s going to yell at you because no one gives a good goddamn. Other people have their own problems. Have you seen these other people on the street? They’re all miserable, look at them. They don’t care about you or your computer. You could erase your entire hard disk including the unera utility, by mistake, while showing off for a cute babe and the people on the street wouldn’t even blink. They’re busy making their own stupid mistakes. And that gives you a great deal of freedom.

So here’s what I say and here’s what I do. Make that computer yours. Make it belong to you. Make it look right to you. Dominate it. Rule it. Violate it. Posses it. Trash the mother. I’m not going to tell you exactly what to do with it, I’ve already stuck my nose too far into your business. I don’t care if you put on backstage stickers to Lou Reed and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You could peel the warning sticker off your 2 Live Crew CD and decoupage it right above the screen and change your prompt to (C:) Oh, me so horny>, put on scuba stickers and pretend you aren’t just a nerd like the rest of us. Or—be practical—no one can remember those WP commands so why not take a Sharpie and write “Just Kidding” right above the F1 key and “where the hell am I?” above F3. I haven’t tried a wood-burning tool or a soldering iron (they’re the same tool with different packaging, right?) But I bet it would look boss. Make it so if your computer was coming down the airline luggage carousel you wouldn’t have to look at the claim check number to tell it was yours. “Many computers do look alike”—and that’s a bad thing.

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