My dad taught me at an early age to take personal offense when inanimate objects failed to perform up to expectations. He spent many an afternoon in our garage cursing carburetors that no longer allowed moderated amounts of gasoline into our cars’ engines. A nail that shot sideways when hammered instead of embedding itself further into a plank could have the legitimacy of its birth questioned. “You dirty son of a bitch!” my father would swear. A wheelbarrow full of cement that tipped sideways before reaching its destination would be the recipient of a string of Anglo-Saxon oaths all ending in “ucker”.
I’ve proudly carried on this tradition, much to my wife’s dismay. She thinks that it’s unreasonable to get overly excited by anything not related to a loss of life, love and limb. She leaves the room whenever I drop a fully loaded paint brush onto the carpet, hammer my thumb, or break a piece of equipment. And she’s particularly unsympathetic when I take umbrage with my computer.
I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to feel betrayed when the computer decides to arbitrarily refuse to perform a task it’s done several times before. I click on a window, follow a command, wait patiently while a little wheel spins and spins and spins on the screen until…nothing happens. The uploaded picture is lost in the ether, and I’m invited to try again, or to wait until later, or I’m told that the file didn’t meet specifications. The computer and I both know that I photoshopped the shit out of that image until it fulfilled all the requirements, but the laptop refuses to admit its fault. It’s like the bad girlfriend I had thirty years ago who put the blame on me when she kissed another guy. I try again with the same results, and now I know that the lying weasel is just messing with me. “Go ahead,” it hisses to me. “Change the proportions, the DPI; save it as a TIFF, as a jpeg, as anything on the menu. I’ll spin my little wheel and make you sit there for five minutes, ten minutes, and just as you start to get your hopes up…wait for it…wait for it…I’ll bomb you with a stop sign icon and invite you to start all over.”
I agree with my wife that getting frustrated with a tool, a piece of technology that is generally helpful, is a bit silly when compared to the bigger problems that we face. I know that it’s rude to break the peaceful quiet of our home with a string of heated curses. But the little bastard winds me up gradually, and after an hour or two of frustration I lose all perspective. I start to hammer at the keys and jerk at the mouse. My hands begin to itch with the urge to pick up the laptop and hurl it through the window where it will land cracked and dented on the driveway. I long to see the background image crackle and die on its splintered screen.
I would never do that, of course. The little fiend is way too expensive to destroy in a feckless moment of rage. And it does have consistent good graces: it plays movies with a high resolution image and allows me to listen to music from bands that I’ve newly discovered. But it is a treacherous machine, one that promises much but delivers only when it pleases. If only I knew the key to attuning myself to its whims, to soothing its electronic crankiness. If only there were a minor god that accepted alms in return for a life of digital tranquility. I’m willing to convert.