Arthur Neville Chamberlain Answers the Information Technology Help Desk Hotline

Zachary Martin gets his computer questions answered by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


Chamberlain: Hullo? Neville Chamberlain speaking.

Caller: Okay, I’m totally stressed out because my computer just crashed and I have a business presentation tomorrow. There’s a message that keeps popping up on the screen that says “Internal Server Error.” What should I do?

Chamberlain: It sounds rather like a matter into which we should not intervene, doesn’t it? That word “internal,” you see? We should seek by all means in our power to avoid confrontation, by analysing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. These things have a way of sorting themselves out. Have you tried stepping away and allowing the logic machine to solve the problem by itself? Sometimes we should simply stay out of the way and hope for the best.

Chamberlain: Chamberlain here.

Caller: I don’t know what I did, but my computer is completely frozen. I can’t type anything, I can’t move the cursor, and it won’t take any commands from me.

Chamberlain: I don’t want to criticize, but perhaps your approach should be modified. It has always seemed to me that in dealing with things foreign to us we do not give ourselves a chance of success unless we try to understand their mentality. Tell me more about this computer. Is it powerful?

Caller: It’s got an Intel Core Duo Processor, 300-gig hard drive, four gigabytes of memory, and a fast graphics card. It’s definitely a lot more powerful than my last computer.

Chamberlain: I see. And what of its aims?

Caller: You mean, like instant messaging? I use GChat.

Chamberlain: Yes, okay, chatting is good. Keep things civil — no “commands” from either side — and remember that however little sense its actions are making right now, it is at its heart driven by the same logic as either of us. It’s important to remind the machine of this. I sincerely doubt it wants this stalemate any more than you or I do, but undoubtedly you both feel too proud to give in first. There is strength in this common ground.

Caller: So you want me to… talk to my computer?

Chamberlain: It’s easy to doubt the powers of simple diplomacy, but what other choice do you have?

Caller: I guess I could turn everything off and restart the system…

Chamberlain: To tear it all down and start from scratch? It is important never to resort to drastic measures if they can be avoided. Human history is full of compromises and collaborations. We must not accept that one person’s way — even our own — is the only way.

Chamberlain: Arthur Neville Chamberlain. Talk to me.

Caller: My computer deleted my entire hard drive overnight. All of my files are gone. It must’ve been some kind of virus.

Chamberlain: I can sense the pain and longing in your voice. You’re angry, seeking revenge for your loss, perhaps.

Caller: My dissertation was on this thing!

Chamberlain: In the short term, I can offer no salve for your pain. But let us look, for a moment, through the long lens of history, where aggression is rarely rewarded and retribution brings only further misery. In the face of such difficulties as yours, it is important to remain principled. This is an evil machine — one that uses brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution — and against it I am certain that the right will prevail in the end.

Caller: So can you help me retrieve my dissertation or not?

Chamberlain: We cannot risk this fragile peace.

Illustration by Hallie Bateman

Zachary Martin is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University. His fiction, non-fiction, and humor have appeared in Fourth Genre, The Louisville Review, Washington Square, The Southeast Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He is a PhD candidate in Fiction at the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program and an instructor at the Gotham Writers' Workshops.