Doodad Apocalypse

First there was the Palm Pilot which bred a host of “PDAs.” From that pack emerged the Blackberry. That in turn whelped phone combos like the Treo and now the iPhone. I had a couple of thoughts about these phone-computer-phonograph-coffee mill hybrids.

First, if you are a domestic-only consumer of media, considering that the U.S.A., being the font of at least most technical innovations, is going to hit it all first, I would like to ask you to reconsider. I remember reading a post from the first Chinese Bloggers Conference back in 2005. One of the dominant themes of the commentary was one blogger’s amazement at how relentlessly the Chinese participants used their cellular phones. Everyone had a multiple-use phone and everyone utilized it to its full capacity At that moment, I remember thinking I only had to wait to see this become a non-specialist’s reality in the U.S. It has.

My second thought about these ubiquitous and sometimes rage-inducing devices is that when someone outside of a group satirizes it, they usually create something more embarrassing and awkward and accidentally-funny than piercing and piss-taking. (Anyone else old enough for the phrase “the punk rock episode of Quincy” to mean anything?) But I, always on the lookout for you, my dear, dear readers, have found someone who makes such evil-minded fun of digital tool-obsessed gear queens that it brings a tear to your eye. Often, the one with the hatpin in it.

I’m talking about Terry Pratchett, of course. Pratchett is best known for his series of novels set on “Discworld” (a planet the shape of a dinner plate that travels through the universe on the back of four gigotious elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the cosmic turtle—duh). His second-to-latest, Thud, details the frustrations and challenges facing Samuel Vimes, head cop of the Ankh-Morpork city watch. One of those frustrations is a device given to him by his wife. The “Gooseberry” is an imp-powered personal organizer.


Vimes slammed the Gooseberry down on the desk and picked up the small loaf of dwarf bread that for the last few years he’d used as a paperweight.

“Switch off or die,” he growled.

“Now, I can see you’re slightly upset,” said the imp. Looking up at the looming loaf, “but could I ask you to look at things from my point of view? This is my job. This is what I am. I am, therefore I think. And I think we could get along famously if you would only read the manu—please, no! I really could help you!”

Vimes decides finally to set the imp to work at processing an immense amount of his neglected paperwork, looking for criminal patterns of activity. Although he never completely loses his distaste for this irritating device (and refuses to allow it to determine the course of his day), he figures out how to make it work for him. And this is the key: Technology should work for you. You should not have to work for it. Technology works differently for different people. So find your own relationship with it. Don’t fall for the fiction that there is a “right” way to use technology.

(The previous post was created using an Avery-Dennison 43-581 slaved to a Uni-ball Vision-fine.)

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