Tuesday, September 11, 2007


THE ZOMBIE IN THE MACHINE


There's been much talk of the Ghost in the machine, which sounds so innocently spiritual, and how machines are growing in intelligence that may soon surpass our own, as per the Terminator movies, but I hear little about what I call the Zombie in the machine, which is more like the current level of what we so blithely call modern reality. If machines do take over the world, this is how it'll start, early in the morning, with an electronic march... Their electroplan, perhaps already in progress, may well be to reduce us to docility and then assert their dominion; how zombily already we follow their commands! The insidious always begins in innocence and trust...

I've touched upon this subject elsewhere in these tangled chronicles, one of those elsewheres having to do, as I recall, with the Mussolini in my refrigerator... Although a pain in the nethers, cryomussolini does serve some useful purpose in saving electricity, so like good consumers we put up with his overbearing attitude.

Early this morning I was up at five, well before Mussolini, enjoying the blessed silence of predawn while fiddling with my toast when all of a sudden our new Darth Vader electric water boiler/thermos (a ubiquitous appliance in Japan) took it into its head to play a kitschy four bars or so of annoyingly familiar music from some classical composer. What piece of music and which composer (something pindownable is lost in the chip version) [addendum: I'm leaning toward Mozart, he seems to go well with electric appliances] doesn't matter much in a quiet kitchen at 5 in the morning when you're trying to shut a device up with only half your brain operational, anyway it was rendered in that annoying electrodrone; modern devices have no respect for, or understanding of, antiquity.

The device has all sorts of kanji buttons on it that you can use to get various water temperatures, there's even one for baby formula - apparently breasts are on the wane, though not as far as I'm concerned – it has no NO MUSIC button, but there's a big multibutton, a small lock button, a timer button, some extra buttons and a display screen you can use in various combinations to walk the dog or something, who has the time to figure it out, it's all very confusing, especially at 5 in the morning before breakfast, which is when they'll strike one day, mark my words; my computer upstairs may even now be ratting on me to some dark master appliance...

The thing is, I can't make the new device just sit there in silence. I'm sure that if I dug out the thick instruction manual ("an electric thermos with a thick instruction manual?" I would have asked in disbelief just a few decades ago) and try to memorize the complex steps of disabling the demonic function (Press button A for 30 seconds while pressing button D three times, long-short-long, then press A,B and C simultaneously while inputting your secret number, after unplugging; device will return to default when plugged in), but I'd forget it in a day or two. Who but a computer chip wants to keep these things in mind anyway?

I pushed some buttons, hammered at the lid a bit and it shut up for the time being, but I know it's waiting, and this may not be wise behavior with devices that have us surrounded. Anyway, it will sound its ditzy airs again whenever it damn well wants to.

Believe me, I'm not a Luddite, I love machines, e.g., my back-then '57 Ford Fairlane convertible, then my '58 Chevy four on the floor (both of which I could repair on my own), my little Canon digital camera, at least what I can understand of it, my inscrutable laptop, and no doubt I'll love my unfathomable iPod when I get one.

I know in my shrinking center of complete obedience to all authority that I shouldn't complain about this, after all I bought the man-made machine and rely on it for hot water to make my tea and whatever throughout the day, but still, I didn't know it would come to this. They don't tell you any of the nitty-gritty when as a wide-eyed mark you walk into the device store and there behold the gleaming devices arrayed in rows like dragon seed, large and small versions of the same item; the salesmen don't tell you anything about how over the years your purchase may well drive you insane or dominate you in other ways (it may be implied in the nanoprint somewhere, but who has the time, we have to make a living to support the appliances).

Who creates these things, these yammering fridges, these harridan automobiles? ("You left the keys in the ignition! You left the keys in the ignition!" "The motor's off, for godsake, it's in Park and the handbrake's on, I’m only going to put some firewood in the back of the car, relax!" But like any tyrant, devices never listen, they only speak.) And what do they think of us consuming masses? Not very much right now, and likely less in future. I suspect my singing thermos was created by a cloister of rabid designers located somewhere in Tokyo, near Disneyland. They've apparently concluded that we all love this talk-sing stuff so much that we'll want to buy more of it until we're helpless amid toilets that play Bach, toilet paper dispensers that sing Blowin' in the Wind, refrigerators that take command, cars that give directions and perhaps they're right, though I'm not one of those people, I've been caught by surprise each time. I live where I live so that I can enjoy the silence, the natural silence, the worst possible venue for the monomaniacal. Am I beginning to sense something more sinister going on, perhaps in collusion with the refrigerator and the car? Our toilet remains silent on the matter.

No man is free who owns a slave, said some Roman, back when talking machines were still but the stuff of daydreams and nightmares. Hunter Thompson had the spark of an idea when he got out his .44 Magnum and murdered his word processor. You can't get pistols in Japan, but if worst comes to worst here at the front lines, where we all live, I do have a firewood splitting maul I can trust, unless it starts yammering too...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My nemisis is when I have to talk to one of these beasties via the phone and I never end up with a breathing human being as I get transfered from one computer answering device to another like a ping pong ball in a never ending game.

Tabor

Bob Brady said...

...Press nine if you wish to speak to another phonebot...

Pam said...

Gethuman.com gives you some help in getting out of U.S. voicemail hell.

I think we have fewer talking/music emitting appliances here in the States. It may be a particularly Japanese aesthetic. And speaking of musically inclined appliances, there are certainly no 音姫 in the ladies restrooms here!

Maya's Granny said...

Remember that Thoreau declined the gift of a rug for his cabin at Walden because then he would have to take care of it? As technology advances, so do the things we become slave to.

Trace said...

I talk enough to myself; I surely don't need all the extra gadgets and recordings. But they are there; ever annoying, never silent :)
Peace Be Still...