Thursday, January 17, 2013

El Exigente

Years ago, there was a commercial for Savarin coffee featuring a character known only as El Exigente ... the demanding one. The premise was that if El Exigente approved, the whole town went nuts in a riotous orgy of ... well, coffee drinking, we assume.

Nowadays, El Exigente is the machine ... all machines. We've let these things into our lives, naively assuming they were somehow making things easier. But all they've done is whittle away at our freedom, little by little, until we became servants to the machines.

It started with the humble VCR. Oh, sure, it was great to be able to record TV shows to watch at our convenience. But remember the first time the power failed? When it came back, the VCR just kept flashing "12:00" at us, day or night, relentlessly. It was the machine's way of saying "What time is it? What time is it? What time is it?"

We have a coffee maker in our office that can whip up espresso, cappuccino, and other savory caffeinated drinks. But its electronic display, ostensibly to show hints about how to use the device, keeps making demands. "Decalcifying needed." "Empty grounds bin." In fact, this mischievous machine withholds caffeine until its demands are met.

All our desktop computers take time from their busy schedules to inform us that software updates are available. Some of these are even critical updates! Woe betide he who ignores those insistent prompts.

And mobile devices? My tablet has a whole repertoire of pings, boops, beeps, twiddly-doos and other assorted "alert" sounds intended to notify me of ... what? It gives no clue as to what these auditory attention getters signify. At least my smoke detector has the decency to tell me, in a clear, LOUD voice, that I must change its batteries or face incineration. I must say it's a compelling argument.

But by far the worst, most demanding, unyielding device is the GPS. Not only is it constantly intoning its directions with smug superiority and supreme condescension, as if I were an idiot ("Please proceed to highlighted route." Of course, dammit! It's my driveway!), but if I dare deviate from its intended course, it sighs with exasperation as it utters "Recalculating." It's appalled that I have the effrontery to challenge its all-knowing prescription, and to disobey a direct command. No wonder GPSes have been known to lead their drivers miles off course into the wilderness. They simply don't have the patience for  our meddling.

And this is only the beginning.

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