Earlier this Quarter, when it was time for students to submit a draft of their thesis, two different students reported that they had completed their drafts, but then their computers had failed, and that they had lost everything they had prepared. Thus, they couldn't turn in their drafts by the deadline.
One might be tempted to think that these students were updating an old excuse, telling me that their "digital dog" ate their homework. In fact, however, I did believe the students. I am pretty sure that their computers did fail, right at the worst moment. The plight of these students, who had to do everything over again, reminded me of a story I heard some time ago.
It is a kind of "shaggy dog story," minus the shaggy dog. Here it is:
A Duel In Heaven
One day in Heaven, as God was supervising the operations of the Heavenly Host, with Jesus serving as his Chief Clerk, the "Hotline From Hell" telephone rang. It was the Devil.
"Hi," said God, "what can I do for you?"
Satan said, "God, I am sorry for having blown it so badly. It's really hot down here (and global warming isn't making things any better). I'd like to earn the right to come back to Heaven."
"Well," God replied, "I am a pretty forgiving guy, as you know, but you really did blow it big time with me. I don't see any way to make that happen for you."
"How about this," Satan rejoined: "I'll come up there and take over all the typing you need done, and all the associated clerical duties. I am a damn fast typist, and I know you will value my services. I am actully devilish fast," Satan said, just to show he had a sense of humor.
"Frankly," God responded, "my son Jesus is in charge of all the typing and other related issues, and I am more than satisfied with how he's doing. He types like he is inspired by the angels." God added that comment about the angels just to show that God hadn't lost his sense of humor, either.
"Just give me a chance, please," the Devil begged, and so God agreed, proving that God really is the forgiving type.
"Here's what I will do," God stated: "I will give you a one-day pass. You can come on up to Heaven, and I will set up a contest between you and Jesus, to see who is the fastest and most accurate typist. You will each be given the entire New Testament to transcribe; you will both have the most recent and most powerful Apple Computers; and whoever finishes the transcription first, without making a single mistake, will be put in charge of the typing and clerical duties here in Heaven. If you win, I'll reassign Jesus to other duties, and you can stay up here permanently. If you lose the contest, though, you're going back to Hell."
"This is more than generous," the Devil said. "Thank you. I'll be up there first thing tomorrow morning. I know you are going to be impressed with how fast I can type."
The next day, God had the equipment all set up: two identical computers; two identical desks; two absolutely identical copies of the entire New Testament on those desks. "When I give the signal," said God, "you can both start typing. You know the rules. Whoever finishes first will get the job of doing all the typing here in Heaven."
God blew a whistle, and both Jesus and the Devil started typing. Man, they were both fast, but it did look to observers (and there were lots of angels hanging around watching) that the Devil might actually be beating Jesus out.
Just as it was clear that both Jesus and the Devil were coming into the home stretch, the lights flickered; they flickered again; then, just like PG&E customers experience all the time, the power failed completely and the entirety of Heaven was plunged into total darkness.
You might think that God would say something like, "Hell," or "damn!" He didn't, and Jesus didn't either. But the Devil said all that and a lot more.
Anyway, just like with PG&E, the power came right back; the lights turned on again, and both computers rebooted. The Devil started typing like crazy. So did Jesus, and five minutes later, Jesus announced, "l'm done!" He printed out his work product and handed it in to God, who proclaimed it perfect.
The Devil was outraged. "What the Hell is going on? The power went out and I lost all my work. Naturally, I had to start over from the beginning. That wasn't my fault. Something's not right, here!"
"Oh, dear," God said. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew.
As you will have seen, no shaggy dog is found within this story, and even those who are non-religious should be able to get beyond the references to God and Jesus, and extract the important lesson found in this long tale about the Duel in Heaven.
This is a story, in other words, for all of us to keep in mind as we use our computers. It might be particularly relevant for students working on major papers.
Save your work! Back it up!