Will Computers Be Our Downfall
Coming from the time before personal computers, ATM’s and the internet, I have always embraced our new high-tech existence, though a recent incident caused me to cast doubts on our reliance upon these technologies.
The magnetic strip on my credit card wore out and attempting to buy some food from a local supermarket, I had the audacity to dust off my cheque book. The sales assistant was not only taken by surprise when I unveiled the archaic object, she subjected me to a twenty minute ordeal in order to make my purchase.
Firstly, she tried to obtain the details of the cheque by swiping my card through a reader, numerous attempts to clean my card on her cardigan failed, the introduction of her own spittle applied to her thumb and then pasted onto the magnetic strip also failed. Then an attempt to enter the information printed on the card manually into the computerised till also failed and so went out the cry, ' Supervisor to isle one please'.
By this time a lengthy queue had formed behind me and was becoming restless. I was reminded about a story of a man who found himself surrounded by hostile gorillas and instinctively avoided their gaze. Unable to find a supervisor she pressed some more buttons and with great glee slipped my cheque into a printing machine, at which point she casually dismissed the woman who had suddenly appeared to help her.
To my horror the machine failed to work again, the gorillas by this time were becoming more restless and started to repack their purchases into shopping baskets and head for an alternative isle. The now familiar cry went out, 'Supervisor to isle one please'.
Her calls were not answered until after I was forced to watch her further scrubbing the magnetic strip with her cardigan, applying more spittle, punching my card details into the till and jamming my cheque repeatedly into the printer until it had the appearance of a discarded toffee wrapper. At which point she had almost certainly smelt success and again dismissed the woman who came to her aid. I then became uncomfortably aware that a new and more menacing band of gorillas, unaware of the frustrations of the previous troop, had formed a queue behind me and were staring at me with deadly intent.
The young sales assistant then started to lift and bang the printing device, which seemed to both excite and agitate the throng behind me who all fell suddenly into silence as the cry of, 'Supervisor to isle one please', rang out across the store.
The supervisor then joined in with the primeval banging of the printer and a new cry of 'Manager to isle one please', caused all those behind me to raise their eyes and then focus them firmly upon myself with a disdain bordering upon blood lust.
The manager then appeared and despite my attempts to explain that the card's magnetic strip was defective, repeated the sacred ritual of 'the rubbing of the card' culminating in the beating out of primitive rhythms on the counter with the printer. After what seemed like an eternity, the manager explained to me at length that the card had a defective strip and that the printer was temporarily out of order and handed me a pen.
I swiftly wrote the cheque and departed without the customary apologies to all around me. Though what worried me more than the threat of being torn limb from limb by a crazed mob of angry shoppers, was that we had become so reliant on machines.
We all drive cars with sophisticated engine management systems so complicated that it takes a team of IT specialists to replace the oil, we entrust our entire address books to a flimsy piece of plastic called a mobile phone, our correspondence, wages, bill payments and even our food shopping is now dependent upon an overloaded set of cables sending messages to computers all around the world.
So what happens if it all stops working? Could a computer virus created by a bored teenager, fly silently into the computers of every bank in the world and bring down the entire Internet and telecommunications systems? Would we then find starving hoards fighting over wild berries across the wastelands of suburbia. Or even worse, roaming the streets in a frenzied mob predating upon computer salesmen, sucking their bones dry and proclaiming, 'You deserved it, you got us into this mess'. As for me, I'm starting to acquire an unhealthy interest in bicycles, home-grown vegetables and how to apply for a shotgun licence.