Ten or twenty years ago, some bright mind came up with the term “road-rage” and thereby gave linguistic shape to an existential novelty. Well, if nobody else has already patented it, I’d like to introduce another existential genre, “techno-fury”. It’s the kind of thing that has people reaching for their bazookas, turning kindly retired clergymen and peace-loving bird-watchers into potential serial killers.
It starts something like this. Your car insurance company Axa sends you a paper letter. It has a heading. In Italy, where you happen to live, it reads like this: Dematerializzazione dell’attestato di rischio. Literally “Dematerialisation of the statement of risk”. You humbly struggle through the text. Something seems to be going on that you need to know about. Just possibly the letter may mean that you will not be informed materially (i.e. on a piece of paper) about your risk (of crashing? of others risking on your behalf?). Thoughtfully, the company is informing you on paper, for the second year running, that no more paper will be wasted. Which, as they used to say in 1066 And All That, is a good thing. Worrying your way through obscurities, you learn to your relief that you can find out just what your risk profile looks like by going online to www… There, it seems, you can actually find out how much you need to cough up to insure your car, and, rejoice!, pay it online, instead of having to pop into town and hand over cash to the charming Claudia in the local office. Only first you need to register. Think of a username (possibly memorable), choose a password, repeat it correctly, wait for the e-mail inbox to pling, type in the authentication code. A few more steps and you can PAY and feel a sense of achievement. Only to read, just before pressing the final “Send”: “We regret to inform you that this service is momentarily offline. Please try later.” Where “later” = “from here to eternity”. Come to think of it, this happened last year, too. You check your blood pressure. Hmmm.
Later in the morning you gather some more physical matter from the letterbox. A few unwanted bills, and a beautifully clear letter. Soon your Sky decoder’s smartcard will have to be updated. Unstick the bright new plastic smartcard-with-chip and insert it in place of the one that has now become obtuse. You fumble around the decoder. Not a socket in sight from which to extract obsolete smartcard. You shuffle decoder around, upsetting spider architecture. You do this seven or eight times. Minutes pass, blood pressure needs further attention. Go back to the letter. Thank god: an 800 number to call. Voice: If you wish to extend your channels to include the foreign legion, press 1. For all other desires press 2. If you wish to seize the wonderful opportunity to see every sports event in the universe before it happens, press 1. For all other desires press 2. If you wish to profit from our endlessly alluring free offers, press 1. For all other desires, press 2.
If you haven’t had a heart attack in the meantime, you will now be supplied, at breathtaking speed, with a whole gamut of practical solutions to your problem, most of them requiring you call a new phone number that you can’t memorize in time before the once-living voice thanks you kindly and hangs up. At which point, somewhat punch-drunk, you start all over again with pencil and note-pad in hand. Eventually, after a couple more failures (= another sixty minutes off your life-span), you get through to the voice telling you how to confirm your new smartcard once it has been duly inserted. Which it hasn’t, of course. Rather than hang up, you go ahead, though you still can’t find where to lodge the smartcard in the singularly streamlined black decoder you have in your kitchen.
The recorded voice is unperturbed by this. Mission accomplished, new card correctly installed, it warbles. Only, when you turn on the TV, the screen says: “No signal”. You begin to realize that years of zen training have not quite stilled your emotions. With a shaking hand, you dial a new number that has somehow popped up on the screen. A 02, no longer free… what did you expect? You are greeted by exactly the same pieces of voice served up on the previous 800 number. Just to be sure, you whizz (practice makes perfect) through the whole ceremony all over again. Identical result. B....r all! Forgive the language: blood pressure taking its toll. As a last resort you go to your desktop, open Google and type in that “resolve-it-all-and-be-happy” address supplied by the disembodied voice.
I won’t bother you with the jungle of options leading into various wildernesses, or the struggle to find an FAQ (ah, the sound of that…) which matches your very modest needs. Eventually that beguiling mirage, “Contacts”, appears. You opt for Chat. “Sorry, this service is not available at present. Please go back to square one.” So you try E-mail then. Oh, those poor b.....s paid by the hour to read e-mails with steam bursting from every pore. You are truly sorry they’ve become the butts of your blazing rage. You try to fashion a mildly ironical letter of indignation, demanding they call you on your mobile, or else you’ll b....y-well cancel your contract. An hour later, just as you’re dozing off for your afternoon nap, a weary operator from a call centre in Albania politely enquires what your problem is. Would you please explain starting from square one. It seems he doesn’t have access to the aforesaid, steaming e-mail. You get out of bed. Yawning, you fiddle with the TV controls, floundering at his instructions, getting snappier and snappier. Finally you manage to unearth the defunct smartcard so carefully entombed within the decoder, and shove the new one into its place. Joy? Release? Dream on. The screen responds: “No signal”. Dutifully you agree to unplug the power cable, wait one minute, plug it again… etc.
This kind of thing goes on for many minutes. Until the kind young man in Albania tells you that the problem is your satellite dish. Call a technician. Yours will be cheaper, ours costs 70 euros. You point out that your dish was just fine till you embarked on this parlour game. Very discreetly he tells you: “basically, that’s your headache”. Further skirmishes with technology continue for a couple of hours, till finally, a second down-trodden call-centre slave puts the pieces together and gets Sky back up there in the heavens and working for you again. Tonight you can finally watch BBC-World Real Bad News.
Just when you are reaching for the whisky bottle, you get an e-mail from your daughter with a photo of your grand-daughter’s degree ceremony. It seems to want time to download. The window goes on repeating “Downloading” at you for about fifteen minutes, after which that little multicoloured rotating wheel comes up, which of course means you’re f....d, and the only way out is to force quit the app. So you force quit. When you reopen the mail, the same thing happens all over again. Now you can neither download the photo nor use your e-mail again for anything else. By a great streak of luck you have a step-son on the other side of the Atlantic who is an IT genius and, for the price of an intercontinental phone call, he gets you out of the circus after a mere ten minutes of hard thinking.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how I spent today. White blossoms sway on the pear trees, Japonica glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens (as Henry Reed put it), redstarts and chaffinches whitter on the hillside. Lovely mild sunny spring day. And me in utter techno-fury, ready to kill.