01 October 2008

Rage Against the Machine

It’s the first of October, the room is decked out in Halloween garland, and I am sniffling. The pavement has a sheen to it because of the rain, and the air is peacefully gloomy. Happy October!

I could go on about the chilly autumned city and the anticipation I feel every October, but I wanted to write about the gadgets that distract and often spoil these simple giddy moods, that test our patience, and create unnatural glitches in our social expectations and relations.

Like this morning. I was getting in the spirit, chatting with a friend over granola about October poems. I was feeling good. Then I strolled to the computer lab to do some research on how different media outlets covered the debate for an inclass discussion. I was copying and pasting away to an unsaved word document while simultaneously working on a paper for my evening class. Gradually, the internet sites start taking longer to download. My one document does not respond every now and again. And finally, everything freezes. I lose my wordpad of article headlines and quotes, the last paragraph in my second document, and my good ol’ autumn bliss. I start communicating to the computer as if it were personally responsible for its actions and my distress. As if its unresponsiveness was a deliberate jab at my sanity. I grip the face of the monitor on either side and yell WHY? I realize I am trying to scold a machine.

Monday, I was standing outside my journalism classroom, waiting for the professor to arrive. I was bordered by at least 7 other students. I looked around, and each of them had some technological contraption in hand, whether a cell phone or ipod. No one knows each other very well in the class, so we usually turn to texting or fidgeting with playlists to absorb the lack of interaction. I looked around and felt so incredibly compelled to pull out my phone, I guess to show everyone I had someone or something with which to occupy this time too. Then I thought, has texting become more contextually prompted these days? More and more triggered by stillness, inactivity, delays in our daily, familiar momentum? I mean, I felt that I needed to interact with a phone to alleviate this hovering tension. I felt like everyone was engaged in some sort of interaction, and I wasn’t, so I became the 15th wheel.

Every day, at least once a day, I can’t hear someone on the phone. The call drops, it’s windy, he’s mumbling, I’m distracted, we keep talking at the same time, a motorcycle rumbles by, someone else beeps in. What happens next? One person calls the other back, now unconsciously or consciously directing his/her frustration mostly at the other person, not the device that created this conflict. These palm-sized instruments create unnatural resentments towards the people we love. They’re supposed to be channels through which we communicate, but instead, become obstacles when they fail "to do their job." Treating them like human beings from whom we expect dependability and faultless performance.

But humans aren’t perfectly dependable, faultless beings. So, why do I expect a human-made object to be? Maybe I need to be more patient. Yes, I do need to be more patient. But maybe I also need to really consider this unique technocentric trend. Why has it become so common to experience feelings of betrayal or real anger when we “interact” with things to interact with people? Why is it a social symbol to be in constant association with my phone? Why do I feel better, more at ease, when I am? Why do I curse Verizon like it’s an ex-boyfriend out to make my day miserable? Why do I delicately grip the sides of my computer and tenderly encourage it to make mommy proud today?