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There is a kind of refreshment in replacing outdated technology when it goes on the blink

There is a kind of refreshment in replacing outdated technology when it goes on the blink

This column comes to you by the skin of my teeth and the seat of my pants, and quite frankly neither of these are places you or I should want to be. Last weekend my constant, trusty companion developed an ugly clunking noise that made the gorge rise in my stomach. Bye-bye computer. Get well soon.

Unfortunately pens don’t have delete buttons, spell checkers, character counts or handy commands that let you e-mail the whole file from the comfort of your word-processor. Nor does the pen and a sheaf of paper endear itself to the modern press, which has in many cases learned how to use the copy and paste function, in spite of not reading the manual.

In deference to the sloppiness of my handwriting, a lazy wrist and the fulsome curses of harried editors, sub-editors and layout artists, I have waited till the most welcome return of my computer and am writing this column at the very last minute.

Remember the Fifties? I remember it by proxy from various quaint websites. The Fifties was the golden age of technology. The men and women in forward-looking advertisements drove incredibly large cars with gaudy fins and kitschy lights on long, white elevated highways against the backdrop of artfully curvaceous skyscrapers. Beds conveniently folded out of the wall, refrigerators didn’t make funny gurgling noises or wrestle with the problem of ozone and washing machines didn’t walk across the floor to damp and slushy oblivion.

The design was great and very, very optimistic, unfortunately the future didn’t turn out that way.

The skyscrapers aren’t pretty, highways are situated well below the smog layer and technology only works when it wants to, and usually when you don’t need it. If you question this statement, remember how the printer always has a paper jam ten minutes before the presentation that can make or break your career.

I like technology as much as the next man or woman, and possibly more. I just can’t bear the thought of it not being around when I really, really, absolutely need to have it right now. It is a function that comes with being a thoroughly lazy, average modern-day person.

Next to the computer and the smartphone, the most important piece of technology that I have at my disposal is the washing machine. In the first early days of my independent bachelorhood, I lived without one. I have generally managed to suppress the trauma of hand washing, but still shudder at the mere thought of scrubbing my trousers. Hanging out the washing is immensely comforting, probably due to relief of knowing that the wash won’t come to a halt, mid-cycle, leaving me to finish it off manually.

Unfortunately my washing machine is giving off that acrid smell that says it is the next item due for a major repair.

Some people talk of built-in redundancy with all the conviction of lunatic conspiracy theorists. I don’t believe in this. Nothing lasts forever. Proof positive lies in the horse. It lives. It dies. It’s a natural phenomenon. If whatever omnipotent being created the horse did not see fit to let it live forever, why should humanity in its hubris expect a machine to last forever? In fact, I am so inured to reality that I even laugh in the face of realistically limited warranties.

What I do believe in is the uses of technology and our dependency upon it. I believe that dependency on modern technology is a natural progression from fire, the wheel, writing, the lever and movable type. I also believe that in order to reduce the most hideous withdrawal symptoms from this dependency, technology needs to be replaced from time to time.

A large body of the horror and dark fantasy genres revolve around technology developing human emotions and showing the sort of behaviour that you would expect from a seriously aggrieved postal worker on Prozac. They have it wrong and could come up with far more scary scenarios based in a far uglier reality.

Perhaps, instead, they might concentrate on the truly horrifying idea of life without buttons and knobs that make things happen.


 

About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the paper Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.