The Clever Old Lady And The Computer

One day a solemn reception was held in the auditorium of Incredibilis University. Some dozen researchers surrounded by higher authorities were seated at a long table. At the front of the room was a small table upon which sat two gold cassettes and a computer. Nearby was a curious exhibit of worn-out hiking boots and dirty caps. The room was full of notable invitees who were chatting sedately and looking with admiration or with envy at the experts before them. This was a day of great joy and relief for the scholars of the university. After ten years of research and ramblings the team of ten had succeeded in compiling a complete inventory of all that breathed or existed on Mont St-Hilaire.

Once this inventory was completed all of them entered their data onto two gold cassettes destined for the university's master computer which in turn would allow people to make thousands of discoveries on their own personal computers. Soon the university would make this available to everyone. Incredibilis University wanting to serve the citizenry had created an impressive web site called "Beau Mont". Anyone would be able to discover the riches of the mountain, look at the superb photos of the plants and animals, admire the rare minerals hidden underground or listen to the bird songs. What a treat!

The Chancellor of the university rose to speak. With justifiable pride he pointed to the computer installed in the front of the room and pronounced the phrase soon to be famous:
-"Henceforth we will no longer go to the mountain - it will come to us".

"Beau Mont" was a huge success. Seated before their computers young and old replaced their hiking boots with slippers and their mountain by the screens of their computers. What a marvel of science and technology! Everything was there.

Meanwhile, lacking visitors, the mountain became silent. At the security gate of the Nature Centre of Mont St-Hilaire the guard began to be as bored as the guardian of a cemetery. The Visitors Pavillion became empty. The collection of walking sticks was dusty. Even the squirrels were astonished at the absence of hikers on the trails except for one old lady: Bernadette.

Bernadette bore her 80 years well and still had a firm step. She went to the mountain at least three times a week to breathe the pure air and contemplate the lake surrounded by the verdant hills. She also loved to talk to visitors.

Bernadette found that famous phrase "the mountain which comes to us" somewhat exaggerated until the day when she was forced to admit to her great dismay that she was meeting fewer and fewer visitors. Bernadette didn't understand. One couldn't possibly replace the mountain with texts and pictures anymore than one could replace Christmas dinner with a recipe book, however beautifully illustrated. The mountain simply could not be merely in one's head but also had to touch the heart and soul. She made up her mind to get the local folk back on the mountain one day, somehow.

During one of her sleepless nights (a nuisance of old age) the weary old lady had a brilliant idea - shut down the web site! She decided to take a computer course at Incredibilis University. Although it would be a troublesome, demanding effort the mountain deserved it.

After long months of work, numerous questions, explanations and help from our young classmates, Bernadette realized she knew enough to put her plan into action. St. Valentine's Day eve, Bernadette crept discretely into the room housing the university's main frame computer. She knew exactly which panel to open, which wire to handle, which cassettes to remove. After an hour's work the site "Beau Mont" became empty. Bernadette had even taken care to lock up the two cassettes in her rolling cart.

Throughout the following weeks police searched for the culprit. Meanwhile, the visitors quietly returned to the mountain. They had no choice. Since it no longer came to them, they had to go to the mountain in person. After several weeks of rambling the visitors found the mountain to be every bit as rich and vibrant as on their computer screens and, moreover, it was a lot less lonely. And that says nothing about the energy which emanated from the mountain itself. They asked themselves if the vandal who had dared to tamper with the main frame's brain had not indeed rendered a fine service. It certainly had brought people back to reality.

Meanwhile…The experts at the university had succeeded to their great delight in restoring the "Beau Mont" site. Today the "Beau Mont" site remains a rich source of information and people look at it in great numbers but the visitors who rediscover the mountain prefer the open air and the marvelous disorder of the forest to the precision of the computer screen. Bernadette is radiant and continues to tramp the trails and gossip with the visitors.

If you feel your computer has made you its prisoner and you have become too attached to things virtual, then go and look for a while at the freedom and truth to be seen in nature. It's the clever old lady “hacker” who so advises you.