The Blog

Rage Against the Machines

I lost an old friend recently. She'd been sick for a few years, could hardly function, and in the end, we had to pull the plug. I was almost in tears - "almost" being the crucial word. Because in reality, crying over the death of your 2008 Dell Inspiron is almost as tragic as owning one in 2014.
Betsie Van der Meer via Getty Images

I lost an old friend recently. She'd been sick for a few years, could hardly function, and in the end, we had to pull the plug. I was almost in tears - "almost" being the crucial word. Because in reality, crying over the death of your 2008 Dell Inspiron is almost as tragic as owning one in 2014.

The loss, however, was real, and I've still not completely ruled out a funeral (burial, of course - you can't cremate a laptop. Can you please try and take this seriously?) because I owe her at least that much. After all, the last year of her life was torture. Every time I fired her up, I felt like I was horsewhipping a 90-year-old wartime heroine to do laps - in the snow. Downloading was even worse. I'd feel an authentic twinge of guilt every time, like I'd also tied weights round her birdlike ankles and called her a whore. Sometimes, I swear I could hear her tinnily whimper, "Please... please make it stop", but I couldn't - because dammit, I paid for her, and as a confused young high-kicking skeleton once screamed, I'll decide when she's had enough, man. Plus, I loved her too much to let her go and leave me all alone. Can anyone say "co-dependent bully?"

I didn't realise I was the angry Jonny to my Dell's weak (pre-crane kicking) Daniel before she started flailing, and I found myself not just irritated, but genuinely disappointed in her waning performance. This was my child, my friend, my constant companion - and now she was refusing to fend off pop-ups and viruses like some old lady? I now know exactly the kind of reaction my parents can expect in their old age when accidents happen - and it isn't pretty.

Technology, for me at least, comes with a deeply felt psychological price, and it's starting to grate as I'm increasingly inundated with new machines and apps to love, hate and delve headfirst into abusive relationships with. And it wasn't always like this. I grew up in the 80s, where my emotional attachment to machinery started and ended with what my older sister dictated we were watching on Saturday mornings. ("Oh fine. FINE. Well guess what? I don't even LIKE that stupid TV!"). I remember loving my stuffed animals, some Barbies and a certain blue velvet flared dungaree number. But the car was the car, the TV the TV, and the communal Commodore 64 was a creeping rival I'm still not convinced my dad didn't love a little bit more than me. In fact, so enamoured of it was he, it should have been a portent of things to come.

I don't own my technology - I'm owned by it, and it annoys me every time I yell at a machine, then wonder fleetingly what's wrong with me. Technology isn't just helping us navigate our lives; it's quietly and determinedly filling the voids of the lonely and insecure. I'll happily own up to being a card-carrying member of both from time to time. I used to be able to pull off the ten minute drive to my sister's house with no help; now, I not only use my satnav (because heaven forbid I don't get there in the possible 12 minutes instead of my less efficient, traffic-light laden 16), but I'll talk to her all the way there - most likely about my sister. Which I could have done anyway, but it's just nicer when there's someone listening - even if her response to "It's crazy that we've got the same mother, we're that different" is almost always "Keep right." I don't mind though - she's one of the only relationships in my life where I can be viciously verbally abusive with absolutely no consequences. But she's exposed a definite need for authority and instruction in my life that as an adult, I'm not entirely comfortable with.

It's not just the hardware either. The software seeps into your psyche when you're not looking. If you're using Facebook, you'll have had the conversation in your head where you try and analyse how many likes makes it having been worth the sentence, or how impressed you are by the arrogance of someone not only unashamedly flipping through your profile photos, but commenting on one from a year ago, thus exposing themselves as the kind of stalker you'll never have the courage to own up to being. For a narcissist like myself, it's a relentless vortex of increasingly meaningful warnings from above. Dropped my iPhone in the toilet? I'll obviously make a terrible mother. Satnav gone wonky? Well, I shouldn't be going to the party anyway, I was only invited on Facebook. Tinder guy over sharing with his genitals? I'LL BE ALONE FOREVER.

It's a far cry from middle-aged men and their midlife crisis love affairs with shiny red cars ("Isn't she beautiful?"), and embarrassingly, it feels a lot less healthy - these things were bought to be efficient and functional in daily life, not to riddle you so insecure, you can't function without their approval. And it's worse when you're aware of how dysfunctional your new, one sided relationships are. I loathe the deep emotional connection I have with my technological friends, forming relationships that are - day-to-day - more significant and more irritating than any of my real long term relationships. It niggles me that I genuinely worried that my new microwave was going to perform worse because I'd slammed the door too hard on the first go. Or that I had to stop myself apologising to Siri when I ignored her judgemental advice ("Which Mike do you mean? You know ten of them.") and called my ex anyway.

So besides growing a sense of self-discipline and getting some pretty hardcore psychotherapy, what can I do about it? Well, it's too late to create technology that's as difficult to communicate with emotionally as say, a thousand strippers' fathers. But I'd like to try because I'm worried that it's me that's wired wrongly, not the technology that niggles me. What about a sensory app that makes your phone, or your satnav or your laptop get hot and glow red when your blood pressure starts creeping up out of annoyance, befuddlement or even worse, overwhelming affection? Or an app that, when you're getting too emotional, gives you a totally manageable shock that reminds you're human - and it's not. After all, as Albert Einstein said, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity". And there's nothing more human than a quick flush of shame to remind you it's the dying of the light, and not the machines, that you should be raging against. Preferably without an app to guide you. Unless they make an app for that? Because if they do, I love it already.