In a modern, prosperous economy such as Australia, everybody has access to high speed, reliable internet and the latest, perfectly working iGizmo. No one struggles with slow internet on a rainy day, printers always work and the latest phone update downloads quickly, installs seamlessly and doesn’t break a single app. Wireless printers print, touch screens react instantly and precisely to every command and the youtube buffering symbol is a heretical, long forgotten symbol whispered only by those of us old enough to remember when Telstra’s 256Kb broadband package was actually an upgrade.
Some of my more astute readers might suspect a quantum of sarcasm, but compared to the ramshackle, ancient and quite probably virus-infected computer network your typical Lao has to deal with, the not-at-all overused and completely self-aware phrase that beats second and rhymes with world problem comes to mind. It isn’t all bad news though; as long as I stay out of Joma (the air-conditioned western-style coffee shop) I almost never see a mac!
In spite of these difficulties, in some aspects the Lao people (at least in the cities) are more connected than ever. Smartphones (even iPhone’s) are everywhere and social media is the primary method of communication. Phone calls, texts and emoji are so clumsy when you can send stickers!
Communicating via these new social media platforms is great fun, although the 32 different messaging clients required to keep up does hit the phones battery life.
Eventually, once all the free stickers on Line are exhausted and the WiFi drops out yet again the prospect of doing work on an actual computer presents itself. In the corner, a dusty old Pentium 4 with a faded “designed for Windows 2000” sticker stares forlornly across the room. Even though no one in the room can speak English, they turn it on, point at the screen and patiently explain the problem to me. I can’t understand Lao very well yet, but the tone and body language I recognise across borders and cultures. This thing is &%$#ed, and I need to fix it!
The first surprise is that the computer is running Windows 10. I guess Microsoft’s aggressive upgrade push is working well if it got across the WiFi in this office! A few clicks and I see that there is no graphics driver installed. Easy I think to myself, I will be done in a few minutes.
First problem. The computer is not officially supported by windows 10. So no automatic driver download from Hp. Of course, the internet is very slow and patchy in this office, so that took 30 minutes to find out. No matter, I can use a windows 8 driver, it will work. 55 megabytes and 43 minutes later I discover that the HP Windows 8 driver refuses point blank to install.
I can’t even unzip the files and manually install. OK, I am starting to feel the pressure now. In the time it normally takes to completely erase someone’s holiday photos and reinstall windows I am still at square one. But I look around the office and everyone is gone. It is 1150 and lunchtime is taken very seriously in Lao (pro tip: book a meeting for 1130, it will be the quickest meeting you ever have!). I push on, remembering that I left another computer downloading a 200meg file first thing this morning. Cancelling that unlocked a fresh burst of speed allowing me to get a graphics driver direct from Intel before everyone came back from lunch.
To the sounds of various oohs and ahhs, I demonstrated the new abilities of their fixed computer. Leaning back in the chair, I was feeling smug with the momentous achievement of installing a single driver. But just like King Oedipus discovered, pride always comes before the fall. In this case, the fall was ancient laser-jet printer; so old, dusty and battered I could barely believe it had a USB port, let alone turn on. But a port it did have, and with a whine and clatter of plastic gears turn on it did.
I won’t go into the details (full of adventure and research into PS vs PCL driver incompatibilities), except to say that two hours later the printer worked. Not just on the Windows 10 PC, but also a valve driven Toshiba laptop with a version of windows 7 that came from a Chinese torrent site (Windows 8 Extreme Edition – sounds legit to me!). Being the thorough sort, I rebooted to double check everything would still work. Open word, The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, some clip-art of a dolphin smiling and print. The fan began to whine, gears turned and paper was sucked into the fuser assembly. I smiled to myself, mission accomplished, but disaster strikes. The clattering gears protest, a smell rises from the back and paper is spat out, all crumpled and smudged. A cracked fuser reveals itself as the problem. I gesticulate, point and make soothing noises to communicate this to the office staff. One helpfully brings out a fresh toner, but I shake my head and unplug the printer. Maybe one day, in a shining burst of productivity I will be able to fix two problems before 4pm, but not today.