Bryson's America: Congratulations. You are about to be driven insane

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The Independent Culture
CONGRATULATIONS. You have purchased an Anthrax/2000 Multimedia 615X Personal Computer with Digital Doo-Dah Enhancer. It will give years of faithful service, if you ever get it up and running. Also included with your PC is a bonus pack of pre-installed software - "Lawn Mowing Planner", "Mr Arty-Farty", "Blank Screen Save", and "East Africa Route Finder" - which will provide hours of pointless diversion while using up most of your computer's spare memory.

So turn the page and let's get started!

Getting Ready: Congratulations. You have successfully turned the page and are ready to proceed.

Important meaningless note: The Anthrax/2000 is configured to use 80386, 214J10 or higher processors running at 2,472hz on variable-speed spin cycle. Check your electrical installations and insurance policies before proceeding. Do not tumble dry.

To prevent internal heat build-up, select a cool, dry environment for your computer. The bottom shelf of a refrigerator is ideal.

Unpack the box and examine its contents. (Warning: Do not open box if contents are missing or faulty as this will invalidate your warranty. Return all missing contents in their original packaging with a note explaining where they have gone and a replacement will be sent within 12 working months.)

The contents of the box should include some of the following: monitor with mysterious De Gauss button; keyboard with 21in of flex; computer unit; miscellaneous wires and cables not necessarily designed for this model; 2,000-page Owner's Manual; Short Guide to the Owner's Manual; Quick Guide to the Short Guide to the Owner's Manual; Laminated Super-Kwik Set- Up Guide for People Who Are Exceptionally Impatient or Stupid; 1,167 pages of warranties, vouchers, notices in Spanish, and other loose pieces of paper; 292 cubic feet of styrofoam packing material.

Something They Didn't Tell You in the Shop: because of the additional power needs of the pre-installed bonus software, you will need to acquire an Anthrax/2000 auxiliary software upgrade pack, a 900v memory capacitor for the auxiliary software pack, a 50mhz oscillator unit for the memory capacitor, 2,500 mega-gigabytes of additional memory for the oscillator, and an electrical sub-station.

Setting Up: congratulations. You are ready to set up. If you have not yet acquired a degree in electrical engineering, now is the time to do so.

Connect the monitor cable (A) to the portside outlet unit (D); attach power offload unit sub-orbiter (Xii) to the co-axial AC/DC servo channel (G); plug three-pin mouse cable into keyboard housing unit (make extra hole if necessary); connect modem (B2) to offside parallel audio/video lineout jack. Alternatively, plug the cables into the most likely looking holes, switch on and see what happens.

Additional important meaningless note: the wires in the ampule modulator unit are marked as follows, in accordance with international convention: blue = neutral or live; yellow = live or blue; blue and live = neutral and green; black = instant death. (Except where prohibited by law.)

Switch the computer on. Your hard drive will automatically download. (Allow three to five days.) When downloading is complete, your screen will say: "Yeah, what?"

Now it is time to install your software. Insert Disc A (marked "Disc D" or "Disc G") into Drive Slot B or J, and type: "Hello! Anybody home?" At the DOS command prompt, enter your Licence Verification Number. Your Licence Verification Number can be found by entering your Certified User Number, which can be found by entering your Licence Verification Number. If you are unable to find your Licence Verification or Certified User numbers, call the Software Support Line for help. (Please have your Licence Verification and Certified User numbers handy as otherwise the support staff cannot assist you.)

If you have not yet committed suicide, then insert Installation Diskette 1 in Drive Slot 2 (or vice versa) and follow the instructions on your screen. (Note: Owing to a software modification, some instructions will appear in Romanian.) At each prompt, reconfigure the specified file path, double click on the button launch icon, select a single equation default file from the macro selection register, insert the VGA graphics card in the rear aerofoil, and type "CA>" followed by the birthdates of all the people you have ever known. Your screen will now say: "Invalid file path. Whoa! Abort or continue?" Warning: selecting "Continue" may result in irreversible file compression, permanent loss of memory and a default overload in the hard drive. On the other hand, selecting "Abort" will require you to start the whole tedious, maddening installation process all over again. Your choice.

When the smoke has cleared, insert Disc A2 (marked "Disc A1") and repeat as directed with each of the 187 other discs.

When installation is complete, return to file path, and type your name, address and credit-card numbers and press "SEND". This will automatically register you for our free software prize, "Blank Screensaver IV: Nighttime in Deep Space", and allow us to pass your name to lots and lots of computer magazines, online services and other commercial enterprises, who will be in touch shortly.

Congratulations. You are now ready to use your computer. Here are some simple exercises to get you off to a flying start:

Writing a letter: type "Dear -" and follow it with the name of someone you know. Write a few lines about yourself, and then write, "Sincerely yours" followed by your own name. Congratulations.

Saving a file: to save your letter, select File Menu. Choose Retrieve from Sub-Directory A, enter a backup file number and place an insertion point beside the macro dialogue button. Select secondary text box from the merge menu, and double click on the supplementary cleared document window. Assign the tile cascade to a merge file and insert in a text equation box. Alternatively, write the letter out longhand and put it in a drawer.

Advice on Using the Spreadsheet Facility: don't.

Troubleshooting Section: you will have many, many problems with your computer. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

Problem: my computer won't turn on.

Solution: check to make sure the computer is plugged in; check to make sure the power button is in the ON position; check the cables for damage; dig up underground cables in your garden and check for damage; drive out into country and check electricity pylons for signs of fallen wires; call hotline.

Problem: my keyboard doesn't seem to have any keys.

Solution: turn the keyboard the right way up.

Problem: my mouse won't drink its water or go on the spinning wheel.

Solution: try a high-protein diet or phone your petshop support line.

Problem: I keep getting a message saying: "Non-System General Protection Fault."

Solution: this is probably because you are trying to use the computer. Switch the computer to OFF mode and any annoying messages will disappear.

Problem: my computer is a piece of useless junk.

Correct - and congratulations. You are now ready to upgrade to an Anthrax/3000 Turbo model, or to go back to pen and paper.

`Notes from a Big Country', Doubleday, pounds 16.99