Penn & Teller    PCC articles by Penn Jillette        Reprinted with permission.

Trash It

Penn Jillette

I don't know how you got your computer. Maybe you went to some store and bought retail like a fool. You might have sent away to some mail-order-we-don't-charge-you-tax-and-we-never- want-to-hear-from-you-again-PO Box and bought one that didn't work. It's possible you hustled your boss with some bogus computer-commuting scam and made him pay for it. I have no way of knowing. The desk top you own may have belonged to someone you used to live with. Maybe you were able to get him or her so crazy they left you in the middle of the night leaving behind a hot computer, a Tracy Chapman Cd, and a rented "Police Academy 3" video that you never returned and therefore will show up at $89.95 on your ex's Visa bill.

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
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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.

Let's talk about motorcycles. Maybe you waste a lot of time on your computer, your muscles atrophy and you consume too much diet cola beverage and dark chocolate. Maybe your computer is going to ruin your eyes or give you that disease in your wrists that you thought hypochondriac Californians just made up. But, no matter how bad the computer is for you, it's nothing compared to a motorcycle. You screw up on a computer you end up using a Leading Edge word processor for the rest of your life. You screw up on a motorcycle, you become part of America's highway system. But motorcycles are cooler. Why? It's not just because they're dangerous, removing asbestos is only considered cool in very limited circles. What have motorcycles got that computers haven't got? (I'm getting into my Wizard of Oz jag here.) What have motorcycles got that computers haven't got? - Airbrush - That's right, airbrush. You've seen motorcycle gas tanks. They have skulls, breasts and bulging biceps (sometimes on the same creature). They also have lots of bright colors that attract the kind of people you want to meet just like myna birds to a broken mirror.

Oh, yeah, give me all the logical arguments. Rationalize all you want. Tell me that you can't have naked people airbrushed on your computer because the paint fumes will seep into the disk drive and screw up it's innards. You think your computer is more delicate than a motorcycle? Go out to a biker bar, spit on the tip of your finger slide it along the first nicely painted bike you see. (But don't tell them I suggested it. Come to think of it, don't even mention my name.) Then, if you're still sentient, you tell me how careful you think these airbrush guys are. The airbrush guys that are alive today know how to be careful with the patron's property. It's a very quick evolution. In the airbrush business, the customer is not only right, the customer has colors and a buck knife. The airbrush guy or gal knows how to be careful.

So, let other people tell you how to program the damn thing. That's important. But, I'll tell you, for the people that I've helped become computer-obsessed, making it look unique was an important step. The damn thing belongs to you, do whatever you want.

But, I want you to know, if you paint your computer like the back of one of those jean jackets that say "New York," or "Memphis" or "Los Angeles" with little shiny pieces of mirror glued on and lots of happy blue - I'll find you and kill you.

Penn "Born to word process" Jillette