this and gigahertz of that. They
operate according to their own
principles, a formal logic that is
quite unnatural to the untutored
human mind, and they tend
to be strong and silent, seldom
explaining, seldom conversing but quick to criticize, quick
to fail if their precise operating requirements are not met.
Requirements, mind you, that
are seldom specified, even after
problems arise. When machines
work properly, we put up with
them. But when things go wrong,
what then? They laugh at us.
Even so, despite all the insults
and difficulties, we love them.
We can’t live without them, so
we are constantly looking out for
them, even changing the way we
live to make it easier for them.
We cherish machines.
January + February 2009
And yes, machines require a
lot of love and attention. Spoiled
brats. They need washing and
waxing, cleaning and polishing, oiling and maintenance.
Our software needs upgrading
and installation and frequent
restarts and saving. Backups,
too. We need spare parts for our
mechanical stuff, spare tires
for our cars, backup disks and
services for our software. If each
item requires attention only
once a month, given the way the
machines proliferate when not
being watched, this means that
every day of our lives, two to 10
machines need our attention. I
hereby give you Norman’s law:
Norman’s law: The number of hours
per day spent maintaining our equipment doubles every 18 months.
Moore’s law has lasted
decades. Norman’s law will as
well, so that someday (not long
from now) we will spend 32
hours out of each 24-hour day
doing machine maintenance.
One of these days, people will
have had enough. We will revolt:
The early signs are visible now.
How do I know? I keep my ear to
the ground, checking the pulse
of the people. Here’s an example:
“Stupid machine,” I heard
the woman shout as I walked
through the lobby of the building. She had parked her car in
the garage and now wanted to
pay and go on her way. She put
her parking pass into the slot,
paid, but received no receipt,
which she needed to drive
her car out of the lot. “Stupid,
stupid,” she said, kicking the
machine. She pushed a button:
“bzzz,” answered the machine.
“It won’t give me my ticket,” she
yelled to nobody in particular,
pushing more buttons and getting buzzing sounds in response.
Machines certainly do act stupid, but they aren’t. The problem
is they think they are perfect,
and if anything goes wrong, they
blame someone else, usually the
closest person. People, it is true,
get in the way. “If only we didn’t
have all these people around,” one
can imagine them saying, “the
machines would work just fine.”
Actually, I don’t have to imagine. Machines have taken over
the minds of the underground
engineers, and system administrators, as well as other Very
Important People I dare not
name. But I have heard humans
spouting their message (I’m
keeping a list of names). You can
find them yourself. They will use
phrases such as “foolproofing” or
“idiot proofing,” thereby expressing the contempt machines feel
for human beings. Fools and idiots, they call us. How machines