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Why we put up with imperfection

Column This Christmas, I'm taking on our faith in technology
Fri Dec 20 2013, 10:30

AND SO IT falls to me to write the last column before Christmas and I've been racking my brains trying to think of what to say.

I'm very conscious that I should probably be thinking in terms of some hippy sweetness-and-light nonsense about being nice to your neighbour because it's what a child who keeps leaving the door open would want. (I'm talking about Jesus, you see, he was born in a barn.)

But I'm not. I'm going to have a good old moan. I have this affliction. No, not the one you're thinking of. This one is about my relationship with technology. I wonder if you have it too?

You see, I bloody loves me a gadget. I love the idea of a piece of technology that can make my life just that little bit more amazing. But then, the reality is that nine times out of 10, it just doesn't.

This is particularly true of anything involving one gadget having to talk to another one. Take printers – we all know that most of the time, they will point-blank refuse to talk to anything on the network. They have one job to do. Sometimes it'll be a few days before I need to print something. Sometimes a week. But when I need to print something, it WILL be in a hurry. And you can guarantee that, for some reason, that'll be the point when suddenly it will have decided it has seceded from the network and started an autonomous WiFi network all of its own.

And don't get me started on DLNA. I've had my music collection digitised for three years. I haven't touched my CDs in all that time. And what has actually happened is that I've just stopped listening to music, because every time I try to play the album I want off my NAS drive, I can guarantee that it will fail, miserably. "Can't find selected drive" has become the slogan of my dinner parties.

Me and Mrs Chris might sit down and watch a movie, and we just know that within 15 minutes it will suddenly stutter and grind to a halt just when we're about to find out that Bruce Willis is a ghost, or that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Söze or Darth Vader is Luke's father.

Sorry, I meant to say spoiler alert. Forget I mentioned it.

I guess what I'm saying is, whatever the innovation, whether it's NFC or DAB or SGS4 or anything else, it's never perfect. They're all guaranteed to go wrong or fall short sooner or later – and usually right when you need them.

But we persist. And we keep persisting, because we want to believe. Incrementally these things do get better and more reliable, until one day, it becomes commonplace and we forget it was ever an issue. And that's almost where it stops seeming like technology at all.

These days, most of us classify ourselves as men and women of science and therefore hold no stock with the concept of having a faith. But we're wrong, because as long as we continue to believe the Irish lass in the Amazon ad when she claims that by pressing one button our hero will be able to bounce his film onto the big screen, and then when it doesn't work, still be able to say, "well it's supposed to do it", then we're exhibiting faith.

And so as you tuck into your figgy pudding and take the wrapper off that new gadget that you know deep down is going to take four hours and six calls to Amsterdam on Boxing Day to get working, don't try to pretend that you don't have faith. You've got faith in technology – a faith that this is the gadget that will change your life.

Why else would we spend the moments after a first boot sequence silently praying, "Please work, please work"?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a go...ERROR CODE 0XC30021 FATAL EXCEPTION. µ


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