The Tyranny of the Modern World

I am getting a little tired of the machines in my life constantly squawking and bossing me around.  I would ask who owns whom, but am scared of the reply I’d get.

Day after day, my computer makes dippy little noises and posits repeated suggestions about updates, even though I am not in the mood for updates.  This is because I am never in the mood for updates.  I’m perfectly happy with my old programs or whatever you call them and particularly dislike having to re-boot my computer when there is no good reason.

As I write this, the coffeemaker is beeping, just to let me know it’s turning off.  I don’t care about that, either, even though my husband pointed out it was a good quality in a coffeemaker and will keep it from burning the house down.  So, I’m not supposed to listen for the beep; I’m supposed to listen for the non-beep.  I have far, far better things to do, even though it escapes me what, exactly, they are.

Since my husband is out of town, I’m driving his car, because it takes less gas and, unlike my car, has a current inspection sticker.  I know hybrids are supposed to be eerily silent and all that, but this one started making a racket on the way back from the grocery store yesterday.  Finally, I stopped the car and noticed the seatbelt sign was buzzing and screeching and lighting up.  Evidently, the car had taken the weight of a bottle of vinegar to be a passenger in the front seat.  So, it was either put up with the indignant screeching or put a seatbelt around the vinegar, both of which struck me as extreme.  Instead, I “chose” to drive with the jumbo bottle of vinegar between my legs; believe me, this is not the glamorous image of myself I planned for when I was younger.

All was well in my life till two guys delivered our new washing machine, which is snazzy and platinum and whose controls resemble the cockpit of a 747.  I tried to read the instruction manual, but became overcome with fatigue and had to take a nap.  This worked till the woman who kind of cleans our house showed up this morning (I say “kind of,” because she seems to have absolutely no enthusiasm for cleaning and doesn’t do too much — but she’s a very nice person; since I can thoroughly relate to having no enthusiasm for housecleaning, I am too sympathetic to fire her).  Anyway, she and I stood in front of the machine and I poked a few buttons and it seemed to work.  But, like the Prius, it was eerily quiet.  Our old washing machine danced around the floor, bashing the wall and calling attention to its efforts.  How do we know the new machine’s cleaning our clothes if it doesn’t make a lot of racket?

Our housecleaner and I smiled at each other.  I would have translated my chaotic, anti-high-tech thoughts into conversation, but, given my Spanish, it would have taken hours.  So, I just handed her the manual for the washing machine and pointed out the Spanish section.  “El libro,” I said, holding out the manual, acting as if it were the answer to all our problems.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

3 comments… add one
  • Colleen Link

    I ALWAYS enjoy your posts!

  • Ha!
    As the co-owner with my husband of a Prius, I know only too well of  its idiosyncratic behaviors; usually totally quiet, occasionally making weird noises etc. The washing machine issue I can relate to as well…things are getting far too complicated these days. I long for the easy to use appliances with only one or two basic options.  Otherwise,  I need my 20 something kids to figure it out for me and mind you, they NEVER even open the manual; they just have an uncanny sense of what to do and are usually right.

  • Winston Link

    Ugh!  I don’t like smart machinery either.  For one thing, it brings to mind a sci-fi story I read decades ago.  I can’t recall the title— it was probably by Ray Bradbury.  It unfolds as a leisurely flowing description of a house in the undefined future that is completely automated, taking full care of its residents.  The reader is often told of the sound of magnetic tapes gliding and clicking within the walls as this ultra abode, cleans floors that no one has soiled, prepares and clears away dinners that no one eats, brings in the newspapers that are, in fact, no longer being delivered.   At the end we get a description of how the house prepares to wash its exterior and are treated to a word image of how all the paint has disappeared from one wall, except for a bit which forms the silhouettes of a boy and, higher up, a ball frozen in mid-air.  Thus we learn the residents have been obliterated by a thermo-nuclear blast, yet this home clicks and glides efficiently along, unknowing (perhaps happily knowing) that all human life has ceased.  The story sticks eerily in the mind, thinking of the ultimate survival of “smart” machinery.
    Therefore, if even a coffee pot so much as beeps at me, demands of me, smartly commands of me— I throw it out.  At once!
    And now I’m preparing to plop in a DVD and re-watch The Women (1939).  A world sans smart machinery!  Just a tale of husbands  and tarts.  Nothing complicated (or smart) about either.
    Incidentally, my DVD player neither buckles me into my seat for the run of the show, nor ever utters a word.  I like it!

Leave a Comment