Media Musings & Meditations

Observations and discussion about technology, culture and spirituality. As new technology developments and trends envelope the Internet and our "wired" culture we all need time to reflect and process the implications on our society, our relationships and our spiritual practices.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mystery and Magic in the Machine

During WWII, when some sudden unexplained malfunction occurred in a US Air Force airplane the airmen would jokingly say that a gremlin caused it. There is even a 1940’s Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs has to match wits with this “all too real” mythological gremlin to keep his bomber from crashing. In fact it is one of the very few times when Bugs met his match.

I teach a number of software programs to college students. After observing class-after-class, of 20-25 students, I’ve seen all kinds of odd computer glitches and malfunctions, in both Windows and Mac machines. The software program that worked wonderfully the previous 50 times suddenly locks up. Worse yet, the tools and functions no longer work the way they used to causing unexpected effects on screen. I’m sure there is a technical explanation about the coincidental, simultaneously demand on RAM by two different programs, or something. Perhaps, if I knew exactly what was occurring there might be some mystical combination of quick keys that would solve the problem. But, as often as not, I don’t fully know what the exact problem is or the exact steps the caused it. My pragmatic answer, to the unexplained, is often to close and reopen the program -- which can miraculously puts everything’s back in order. In the most severe cases of machine malaise, such a horribly locked machine – my remedy might lead to restarting the monster. A freshly restarted system is like the dawning of a new day – one on which the computer works!

Okay, I’m not a technical geek, and computer experts are probably shaking their heads and making a tisking noises about now. When I talk to IT about my troubles, their recommendation is usually to upgrade my machine (get more gremlin stomping power). Interesting how even the new machines have their occasional hiccups, too! It’s almost like science and technology can explain and plan for everything up to a point… then the mystery begins. Why does the system suddenly choose the exact moment I have just about finished a special unsaved document – to inexplicably cough and lose my changes? Why the interface malfunction on April 12th that didn’t happen on the 11th and won’t happen on the 13th. I won’t call it magic, but it certainly is a mystery.

Sure technology is continually improving and better operating systems are coming. But I suspect that there will always be that 1% of unexplained, magic in the machine. Even the Star Trek talking computer occasionally has a glitch that risks the crew’s lives. Therefore, I staunchly reserve the right to my mystical rituals such as shutting down and restarting. And, I look longingly for the day when the computer will serve me, rather than the other way around. In the meantime, I’ve got a few magic tricks up my sleeve.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An IT guy told me they will always ask you to shut it down and start it up again. So either they don't know or they don't care to be bothered unless absolutely necessary.

5:03 PM  

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