, , , ,

Every once in a while, something is created for a specialized purpose, but is transformed by public discovery into something generally useful and universally accepted.  This is how the world came to know and love the “Control-Alt-Delete” key combination used to interrupt stalled PCs.  One of the original developers of the IBM PC (usually engineer David Bradley is given the credit) wanted to add to the basic architecture of the system a way to reboot the PC – that is, make the computer return to a fresh start, as it would when it was first turned on – without actually having to turn the computer off and back on again.  This was just to save time.  After turning the PC off, one would have to wait several seconds before turning it on again, to avoid damaging the hardware of the system.  Being able to go straight to the reboot, which software developers would need to do frequently, would in the end save a large amount of cumulative time.

It was meant to be a techie trick, a secret that most users would neither know of nor have use for.  But once word got out early on that hitting “Control-Alt-Delete” would unfreeze a frozen PC, its use spread quickly.  Why wouldn’t it?  PCs froze up so frequently.  So users came to depend upon and expect “Control-Alt-Delete” to cut their electronic Gordian knots whenever their systems got tied up.  Nowadays the key combination doesn’t even have the same effect it originally had: instead of simply rebooting the computer, it pulls up a range of options for the user, including rebooting, each of which might help to troubleshoot a stalled program.

It’s a pain to have to use “Control-Alt-Delete” sometimes, since it probably means you’re going to have to shut down and restart a program, if not the whole computer, but it’s better than the alternative – being stuck in place, waiting for something beyond our control.  Think how useful a “Control-Alt-Delete” command would be in other workplace situations!  That request you made of another department that keeps getting bounced back to you for more clarification – Control-Alt-Delete!  The photocopy that jams after every third copy – Control-Alt-Delete!  That meeting entering its third hour with yet another iteration of the discussion that it opened with – Control-Alt-Delete!  Maybe even: that position you thought would be the fast track to the kinds of opportunities you relished is turning out to a one-way blind alley littered with broken glass and nails – Control-Alt-Delete!

But don’t forget – what made Control-Alt-Delete useful at first, and then popular later, was not what it could do, but how conveniently it could do it.  Rebooting a computer or shutting down a stalled program can be done other ways – they just take more time and care.  So, while it is a pity we don’t always have the same convenience at hand in our work lives, don’t make the mistake of equating inconvenience with impossibility.  There is always a way to reboot.