technology Do you sometimes get a feeling that inanimate objects have a mind of their own?
W ith a trembling forefinger I press the button on top of my printer and stoop respectfully before him. He clears his throat in a menacing manner, blinks his half a dozen green eyes, and like a feudal landlord begins to rail and rant for a whole minute. I wait till he has calmed down and adjust the A-4 sheets, hoping they're massaging his back the way he likes it. I then issue a print request. (Command, you said? I don't dare). Too late, I realise I haven't opened the exit. Wham! A mighty right hook, and the flap bursts open. I jump out of my skin. Shrieking indignantly, he thrusts out the paper in a series of powerful spasms.
Do you sometimes get the feeling that inanimate objects have a mind of their own? That they can be spiteful, temperamental or petulant? Oh, you don't need to tell me about the machines you love, I know all about them — the car or bike you pat affectionately, the loyal fridge you mumble to when no one's looking, the old washing machine that walks towards you like a baby penguin looking for its mother. But I'm speaking of machines you mistrust. You kind of look warily at them and wonder what their next misdeed will be: vengeance, mutiny or emotional blackmail.
When my cell phone needs juice it emits an occasional, plaintive cry that would melt the hardest heart. The cry turns progressively feebler, and I am tempted to mutter, “Wait a minute, I'm coming” before I plug it into an energy source. Some time ago I dropped it on the road. It lay comatose, unable to speak or move. No trace of life was visible on its face. A friend who clearly had vast experience in these matters told me reassuringly, “Switch it off, wait for a while, and then switch it back on.” This, I suppose, was like administering an electric shock to the chest to recover the heartbeat. I pressed the red icon and waited, almost hearing the words “1,2,3,4,5,6,7, clear!” Of course the trick worked. Don't ask me or my friend for a scientific explanation.
Our recalcitrant landline had to be pounded into submission before it would deign to work. I would press buttons repeatedly but uh-uh, no reaction, so I would bring it down forcefully on the desk and try again. Tired of its bad behaviour, we bought a new instrument. This one is so eager to please that she dials on her own without my asking her, which is slightly frightening. Let's say I check for missed calls, notice a number but don't bother to call back. The next time I lift the receiver the creature decides to act on her own steam. “You want to call back? Do you? Do you?” You can practically hear her panting. “Don't worry about a thing, you just sit back and let me take care of it.” A series of rapid pips follow, and unless I quickly disconnect, the number is all dialled and waiting. But how long before she, too, begins to slack off?
Talking of slackers, a clock I was once gifted was the laziest specimen on earth. He liked nothing better in life than to lie flat on his back. It was the only way you could induce him to do his job. He hated being vertical. Hang him on a nail on a wall and he would instantly stop working, but place him on a level surface and he would start ticking industriously. Now you can imagine how impractical was a clock that had to be placed on a table or a teapoy.
To check the time you had to walk towards said table and stare down at the needles and numbers. Needless to say its days in our house were numbered.
Large mechanisms can harbour deep emotional reserves within their bosoms. Take lifts in government offices. It is common practice to disable the ‘ Down' buttons on every floor so that people can use it only to go up and are forced to take the stairs down.
A friend who was temporarily disabled found it impossible to descend five floors on foot but was rescued by a sympathetic Class IV employee. “Don't worry madam,” he said, and proceeded to launch his body at the solid metal doors of the lift. He rained blows on them, crashed his shoulder into them, leaped against them, pounded them insistently with his fists, and leaped some more. While my friend was suffering palpitations, the lift, obviously traumatised by the unholy clamour, stopped on its downward journey and nervously gaped open. My equally nervous friend got in, the lone passenger. Scientific explanation, anyone?
Well, there's one phenomenon for which I can give you a very scientific explanation. This summer, when the weather was particularly dry, did the taps bite and the furniture sting you?
Low humidity plus sensitive skin equals susceptibility to mild shocks. Static electricity. The back of the computer chair, the earpiece of the phone receiver, even, would crackle at my approach. But at least I knew it wasn't personal.
Unlike television sets, which often disapprove of what we watch. Midway between a programme, does a string of numbers appear on your screen, followed by a switching of channels? That's your TV making choices for you.
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