Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Things Fall Apart

I have an inclination to write a thousand-word essay on this topic, as it relates to the home-office computer system--but I won't. The home office is neither home, nor office. Cars fall apart with expectations of doing so, but they keep a safe psychological distance. Cars and computers represent the extended self, although the car is to architecture as the personal computer is to the diary. One fulfills the role of cultural buffer, whereas the other represents the psyche. We don't call them "personal cars" for good reason. Convertibles notwithstanding, cars are impersonal "automobiles" moving automagically as if a movie about them might be titled, The Undriven. The driver is invisible irrespective of the amount of glass. Personal computers, are. A personal computer is a different breed from an office computer, though the hardware may be identical. Office computers always fall apart, but the personal computer, in the euphemistic home-office, should never fall apart. For good reason.

Two books titled Things Fall Apart, one by Chinua Achebe and the other by Pema Chadron, offer much the same worldview from sharply contrasting life experiences. I recommend them both. They're the best books written about computer systems, though ostensibly about other matters.

Ahh, if only I had the courage to write a third about life with computer systems. They all fall apart. Entropy.

We instinctively know this about cars, but personal computers are expected to work, and work forever without failure. "Falling-apartness" is experienced as a problem. Why? Is it the result of absurd marketing? Is it because computers at home are far more personal in a physical space dimension, such that it becomes vested in more personal, internalized meaning? The car is an icon of the extended self, but it sleeps in the garage, not inside the psychological sanctity of the home, or home office.

The home office lives a life of duplicity and illusion. The personal computer is steeped in cultural significance as if it were the extended psyche in a metaphorical form of the home-office self. That simple space is a rich source carrying meaning far beyond the impersonal presence of our personal computer. The garage is safely distant and hermetically sealed (by Hermes himself). The home office, vulnerable propinquity that it is, cannot but invade our dreams.

Enough. I shall leave the rest to your own imagination, and the imagination is what invests deep cultural power in the inanimate. The Ghost in the Machine is of our own making.

Enough. Enough to know that if your computer system is falling apart, that it's the nature of all things to do so. Entropy. We can fight it, or bring a new consciousness to the dance. Achebe and Chadron write so eloquently about expectations, and dignity among the ruins., where did I leave my car keys?

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