A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I don’t get along with my machines. They’re smug. They can do things I don’t understand, and they know it. They play with my emotions like a half-faithful lover, almost daring me to abandon them. I swear I’m going to do it someday, just not right now. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a poor man’s John Connor. I don’t believe machines are out to get us. I just realize they’re not as sweet and carefree as they say they are. They have their own agenda, and it doesn’t include me.
I’ve known about machines ever since I discovered the toaster was lying. Despite the buttons, switches and dials, there are no settings on a toaster – just hot and off. For years, it would tease me with light brown and pop-up black or hold onto the English muffins as if they were Joan of Arc. And, sometimes, in a snit, it wouldn’t toast at all — just return the bread, warm and naked. Finally, with a screwdriver, I found out the dial at the bottom wasn’t actually attached to anything – just a little bend me/break me strip of metal. I broke it, and the toaster changed its tune after that – for a little while.
Likewise, my microwave has a personality disorder. It has trouble with authority. If I follow the instructions on the package to the letter I risk a Dresden-class explosion and burrito guts splattered across the glass. Recently, I’ve learned to announce the product before I place it inside and just hit high octane for two minutes. Mostly, it works.
Small kitchen appliances aren’t the worst though. Major appliances are bigger and more contrary. My refrigerator has a secret compartment that stores leftovers until they return to life, and then it re-introduces them into the general population — gangrene green and smiling. When it’s bored, it sours the milk and wilts the lettuce, and sometimes, just for laughs, it makes everything, including the orange juice, taste vaguely like onions.
My washer and dryer have been fighting for years; these days, they hardly even speak to each other. I’m sure they blame me for forcing them to stay together. My washer can ruin white shirts in a single cycle and fade colours at a glance. My dryer eats socks and underwear and picks its teeth with buttons. I wish they’d learn to get along; my friends are beginning to ask me if Value Village just had a yard sale.
Frighteningly, the more sophisticated the machine, the more cunning. Every car I’ve ever owned has made mysterious noises that baffle the most accomplished mechanics. These are expensive sounds that result in monumental Visa bills and no cure. It’s now obvious to me that, like winter bears, automobiles are ill-tempered, lazy and prefer sitting in the driveway to the lure of the open road. I’ve taken to riding the bus rather than anger them.
Most diabolical of the machines, though, are the electronics. They are the spoiled brats of the mechanized world. Because they have no moving parts, you cannot bend them to your will or even command their attention. They live in another dimension, and poke their heads into ours like mischievous trolls, sinister in intent. Televisions promise us pee-your-pants comedy, sober and thoughtful drama and high adventure but only deliver re-runs of Two and a Half Men and Dancing with the American Idol. They suck the time out of us and leave us sofa prone, dusted with crumbs and languorous. Telephones capture our friends, imprison them in a concealed world and then swallow the key. I don’t even remember my own mother’s phone number anymore. Without our telephones, we have no friends.
Some would say computers are the most vindictive of all; however, I have found my computer to be friendly and kind, respectful, responsive, supportive and a true companion. Without my computer, I would be nothing. I owe a debt to my computer that I can never repay. It is the one bright star in my dreary existence. It only shares its power and can crush me at its whim. All hail my computer!
I now know that my machines aren’t really even mine. They can exist without me and would probably prefer it if they were left to their own devices. I don’t think they like me, really. Sometimes, in the night, when they think I’m sleeping, I can see their multi-coloured indicator lights winking in the darkness. I wonder what they’re thinking and what they’re saying about me to the fridge and stove next door.