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Serraglio

A psychotechnopath confesses his sins—or the sins against him

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I managed to permanently disable my cell phone on the way to Colorado to visit my partner's parents over the holidays. No incident report was completed on this matter, but I can testify that the actual dismemberment was unintentional, even though the predominant forcing mechanism in the destructive sequence was Inappropriate Frustration Management (IFM), a common symptom in technophobes like me. I would prefer to accept a plea deal of involuntary cellslaughter, and leave it at that.

But it's never that simple, is it? I must confess that I experienced not a speck of remorse, which may simply be emblematic of my technophobia, but may also be influenced by my discovery that the unit ranked at the very top of all phones in electromagnetic radiation emitted. (Perhaps this is why it felt as if a tiny rat had scurried out of the phone, through my ear into my head, and begun gnawing at my brain whenever I talked on it for more than five minutes at a time.) Either way, I spent a blissful two weeks in Colorado liberated from its daily assaults on my sensibility.

This was the first cellular victim of my IFM, but I long ago lost count of the cheap plastic handsets that have regurgitated their circuitry in the face of similarly unsustainable force application. And there is my troubled relationship with printers, which tends toward error messages, crumpled pages, and death threats that (usually) are downgraded to vigorous corporal punishment. Such irrational behavior is part of a broad suite of pathologies that result from technology's grip on our world and our minds. I have invented a term for the mélange of illogic and psychosis that make up this syndrome: psychotechnopathy.

The concept came to me while we were driving around Denver with the not-in-laws one evening. The papa had programmed our destination into his dashboard GPS unit (Global Positioning System, although I have found Generally Pretty Sure to be a closer match), and then proceeded to mindlessly follow the misdirections of the hideous female cybervoice around in circles. Along the way, he ignored street signs, my suggestions (I had memorized the route before we left the house), and his own considerable experience with the Denver metro area. It struck me that this charade elevated the old gender stereotype of men who refuse to stop and ask for directions to a rarified irony, and I had to wonder what could cause such an intelligent and capable man to allow himself to become so befuddled.

It could only have been psychotechnopathy, which underlies the furious cacophony of our day-to-day existence like an ambient whine that only dogs can hear. Indeed, the vast majority of American humans seem oblivious to its presence, even when it surfaces in the most obvious and embarrassing ways.

Take leaf blowers, which were invented to facilitate the cleansing of outdoor areas, toward the larger end of making our lives more pleasant. Like many technological wonders, they do exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to do. They make things demonstrably dirtier, to our tangible distress. Their inefficient engines spew toxic, carcinogenic material into the air, which inevitably finds its way into our lungs. And their cleansing performance is really just a redistribution of the offending detritus, much of which is transformed into an aerosol that also ends up in our lungs. The target area may appear tidy for a short time, but eventually the wind—or the neighbor's leaf blower—reintroduces any material not already absorbed by nearby humans, and the whole ridiculous cycle begins again. Any rational explanation of the phenomenon of leaf blowers would summarize, "Used by humans to create migrating clouds of pollutants and vector disease into the populace."

Yet, these less-than-useless gadgets have somehow become ubiquitous. In the face of such insanity, a sane man must appear insane. Several years ago, I heard one of the little beasties in the courtyard outside the condo where we lived, and then observed telltale wisps of the signature death cloud billowing into the room through the tiny gap between the door and frame. When I burst outside and offered to demonstrate the device's little-known capacity as a colon cleanser to the landscape professional who was wielding it, most witnesses would have sized me up as a homicidal lunatic. Thereafter, the landscaper never approached our door, and I derived deep satisfaction from sweeping the front walk, but I would hardly call that progress.

Now my laptop has a nasty virus and I've been informed that I must begin to make use of Twitter at work, which I had presumed was mainly for twits. I guess it's gonna be that kind of a decade. Again.

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