David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

State of Technological Dissatisfaction

When I finally published the new design for this website a few weeks ago, I had a delusional moment when I thought I had actually got it all set up.

I thought: I’ve got my website running WordPress 2.5.1. I’ve got an Eclipse/Aptana installation that works well for code editing. Photoshop CS3 for image noodling. A Sony VAIO laptop running Vista Home Premium that automatically updates itself. I’ve got Windows FolderShare set up to mirror all of my important files so I don’t need to worry about manual backups.

Firefox Take Back the Web logoAll I need to do from now on is just keep updating the software, and I never, ever, ever need to configure anything again. Windows will update itself. WordPress will evolve incrementally. New virus definitions will arrive. Oh, I might need to swap out hardware a few times, but otherwise I’ve got everything in my computer setup exactly the way I want it. I’m done! I’m set! No more tinkering, no more Googling for solutions.

Well, I’m almost set. I still need to fix the meta tags on WordPress. I’ve got to try to find a better FTP module for Eclipse, because the built-in one sucks rocks. I need to upgrade to Vista Ultimate so I can get Windows Remote Desktop and stop paying $20 every month to GoToMyPC. I need to find a way to have FolderShare mirror my Firefox profiles without making me close my browser five times a session…

It’s not over. It’s never over, and it never will be.

Somehow they’ve managed to do it. Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Sony, IBM, Google — all the dozens of companies large and small who make the hardware and software products I use — they’ve managed to put me in a state of permanent technological dissatisfaction. I’m not satisfied with my computing environment. I’m not satisfied with my website. I’m not satisfied with the tools I use. I need to upgrade something, I need to fix something, I need to improve something. I’m going to sit there on my deathbed bummed out as hell because, well, sure I’m about to die, but I’m about to die and I still haven’t gotten my Firefox profiles to sync properly.

Some lefties would have you believe that this dissatisfaction is just a product of corporate lust. See, I fell into the trap myself in the last paragraph. As if we would all live peaceful, communal, nonacquisitive existences if Coke and Pepsi would stop shoving their advertising in our collective face.

But it ain’t true. This is the human condition. That’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We’re permanently dissatisfied.

We Americans are accustomed to thinking about our history as one continual struggle for improvement (however misguided it may be at times). We pride ourselves on the fact that every generation of American citizens has had more luxuries, amenities, and opportunities than the one before it, and the next generation will have it even better than us. The reason you’re sitting on a cushy hypoallergenic stainproof La-Z-Boy recliner is because your grandpa wasn’t satisfied with his wooden rocking chair. You’re not totally satisfied with your La-Z-Boy either — there’s always something you can do to improve it — and that’s why your great-grandkids are going to be floating on inflatable programmable portable instantly customizable space lounge chairs. And they’re going to have problems with those too…

\'2001\' by Arthur C. ClarkeThis technological restlessness didn’t start with America; not remotely. How far back does it go? The late, great Arthur C. Clarke nailed it in his late, great novel 2001. Early on in the book, we follow a group of primitive apemen led by one Moonwatcher. They’re starving, they’re dwindling, they’re skateboarding on the precipice of Total Extinction without a helmet or kneepads. That’s when the unnamed alien species delivers the Monolith — you know, that tall black slab you remember from the movie. As Clarke describes it, the Monolith is essentially a Machine That Pisses You Off. Suddenly Moonwatcher’s got these visions in his head of a group of primitive apemen lying around all sleek, fat, and comfortable. And he thinks: why don’t I have that? What am I doing wrong? What do I need to do to get that?

Now here I am, a million years later. I’m sleek and fat and comfortable. I sit in a cushy chair all day with a little metal machine on my lap that lets me communicate with anyone in the world. I’ve got cabinets stuffed full of food, I’ve got a security system that keeps the bad guys out, I’ve got a house so insulated from the weather that I rode out last nights’ thunderstorms without a hitch. And yet I am irritated as fucking hell that I can’t get my Firefox profiles to sync.

Lo, my children’s children, I promise you this: we’ll get those Firefox profiles to sync before you arrive. By the time you get here, you’ll be set, and you’ll never, ever, ever have to tinker with anything again. Really. Cross my heart.

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  1. Bob Nolin on May 14, 2008 at 12:13 pm  Chain link

    Fun post – thoughtful and funny. I just came from the Lifehacker site, where the total opposite sort of attitude reigns, where the search for a perfect set of tools, settings, applications, widgets, plug-ins, ad infinitum is seen as…a good thing. I’m just geeky enough to enjoy the tweaking and all, but somedays I just wish Web 2.0 would just cut it out and go away.

  2. David Louis Edelman on May 14, 2008 at 12:46 pm  Chain link

    Oh, I’ve hacked far too many hours off my life on Lifehacker. Almost, but not quite, enough to be worth it…

  3. Derek Johnson on May 15, 2008 at 10:17 am  Chain link

    Good post, Dave. Alas, it may be that software engineers just can’t help but tinker with something because it’s in their nature. Remember DeForest Kelley’s one good line in the otherwise execreble Star Trek: The Motion Picture: “I know engineers. They love to change things.”

    Derek

  4. Calvin Lawson on May 16, 2008 at 12:47 am  Chain link

    Great blog! It’s a love/hate thing…

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