The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

TOOLS AND THEIR USES: I hollered at my alarm clock this morning. I realize that hollering at an alarm clock makes no sense, especially since the alarm clock did what alarm clocks are supposed to do, which is go off at the time you set it to go off at. Clearly, if I didn’t want the alarm to go off I should have refrained from setting the alarm in the first place. But the alarm woke me from a sound sleep and a wonderful dream, the details of which I forget at the moment, and at the time I was not inclined to be either forgiving or rational.

People often blame machinery for their own stupidities. To be honest, there’s something comforting about venting one’s spleen at a thing that can’t get vent back at us. It’s a sort of indulgence, really, like getting drunk and then waking up without the hangover. I’ve known more than one person who would never dream of actually striking a human being, even in a fit of rage, but who have no qualms about battering an inanimate object until said object is broken beyond repair. And why? There’s no really rational way of explaining this sort of behavior. It’d be easy to say that most people are just plain nuts, but that doesn’t really explain anything, does it? I mean, most people know that most other people (and never themselves) are absolutely bonkers. I know one person who put his fist through a door; the knob caught in his coat pocket and he tore his coat as a result. For this horrible crime, the door, which had never done anything to this guy in its entire career as a door, had said career ended when he went nuts on it by punching the door until he bloodied his knuckles. Having the door bloody his hand sent him into new paroxysms of rage and then he started kicking the door until he’d put a big hole in it. Thus do we all try to contact our inner celebrity. He had to replace the door he’d broken; I don’t care what you break at someone else’s house, anyone else’s house, but if you break something at my house you have to pay for it; I’m strange that way.

The human propensity for blaming machines for our own manifold stupidities has gotten a boost with the arrival of the microchip. Back in the days of yore, whoever yore and his mama were, when a guy hit his thumb with a hammer he'd swear that the hammer was too stupid for words, followed by a barrage of words, few of which are repeatable here. But even as our wounded faun damned the hammer’s entire ancestry to twenty-seven different types of perdition, he knew damned well that it wasn’t the hammer’s fault he’d hit his thumb. He'd deny it, of course, but deep down he knew the Newtonian formula that states that stupidity plus inattention to detail equals severe pain. There's a mathematical equation that demonstrates this but I don't have it with me now; it's out in the car. In any case, with the arrival of the microchip, even the dumbest of dumb tools can now, through the wonders of modern technology, have the brains that God gave a gnat, or any one of several cousins of mine, but we won’t go into that at the moment.

Yes, tools are smart now; in fact, they are too smart for their own good. The problem with giving tools some small modicum of intelligence is that too many tools decided that they were too good for the kind of work they were doing; after all, who would want actually want a career as a crescent wrench or a flathead screwdriver if you could avoid such a fate altogether? So they decided that they wanted civil service jobs, and if they couldn’t actually be bureaucrats then they’d do the next best thing and act like bureaucrats. This is why modern machinery is so literal in its thinking and so absolute in its application of the rules and why the vast majority of people can’t figure out how to operate it.

You could read the manual, but what’s the point? All of that information is written by someone in China, who translated the text into English using, you guessed it, a machine, who may not like American machines, being a patriot and all, but who knows that he’s there to help American machines hang on to their jobs. Do the instructions make sense? No, and you knew better than to think about that for a minute, didn’t you, but then, they aren’t supposed to make sense to you. Who are you anyway? You are no one in the machine world, buster, and you better get used to the idea. The machine translation is supposed to make sense only to other machines and no one else. If you can figure out what the manual is actually saying you get a door prize; if you try to actually follow the instructions you think you’ve translated accurately then you might as well throw the machine away; it’s obvious you’ve broken the machine beyond your simple ability to repair and that you should immediately send it to the repair shop. All major credit cards are accepted, but cash is preferred; that way the repair guys can get out of town before you suspect anything.

Yes, the microchip is the bane of modern existence, the communist agitator in the czardom of tools, ever ready to launch the revolution at however many revolutions per minute the machine can stand. We couldn’t do without them now, in the same way that we can’t get along without our dogs and cats. I wonder if the tools did that on purpose; I also wonder if the tools are thinking what a great place the world would be if only there weren’t so many damn humans all over the place, gumming up the metaphorical works.


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