I met my guide, Don, a middle-aged system administrator with daddy’s jeans and a nice mustache in an unfamiliar wing in Clearihue’s basement. I walked over to shake his hand and felt my feet melt into the ground from that wet kush I bought from my roommate. He opened the first door and walked past a wall of respirators and large white coveralls like in Intel’s advertisements. I stripped down to my underwear and squinted at the masks. Don told me I didn’t have to undress or wear the costume, but I didn’t care. It was too important to screw it up. He opened the second door and we entered the gray unknown. Through a cloud of dust and the incessant hum, I saw the light of a 1997 Bondi blue iMac behind a wire mesh cage. It was there: UVic’s mail server.
Since time immemorial, new UVic students have had to navigate the crappy interface of UVic’s webmail system in order to forward their college mail to Gmail, never to look at it again. But every now and then the transfer would fail, usually when that student needed some low cost software but had to enter a school email address. This student would refresh and refresh, only to find it buried in a spam folder a few days after the verification link expired. I told Don and he put his hand on my shoulder, saying how sorry he was. I asked him why it hadn’t been updated since Lifehouse’s âHanging On By A Momentâ topped the charts, and saw a single tear roll down his cheek.
” We can not. It’s impossible.”
Don explained that in the mid-1990s, email was sent through a Telnet client where you connect to a modem pool before navigating to a screen that looked like MS-DOS. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I nodded, my head blurry the whole time. As more and more Luddits wanted to use email, the system had to look more user-friendly, so it was upgraded in 2001. Fifteen years later, it was integrated with so many other systems besides its replacement would cost millions. I asked if I could come in and touch him. He said if I did break it it would take months to get and get another Britney Spears-era iMac ready, so only one person holds the key: the president of UVic.
I blink and say nothing. I had seen everything I needed to see. I took off the costume and lay naked on the dusty floor, struggling to understand the magnitude of what I had just witnessed.
âTake me home,â I said.
Don pulled me out of the server room, called security, and waited with me while I vaped. Before they took me away, I asked which course registration was computer controlled. Don pointed to a white wall. âIt was accidentally sealed behind this wall, but we won’t move it. He hasn’t failed yet.