Condescending Interface

By: Ron at Clark Kent's Lunchbox

Although I can appreciate the efforts to making our lives easier by applying technological advances to basic products, they are, at the same time, eroding my self-esteem. It’s understandable wanting to improve the picture quality of a television or the clarity of a voice in cell phones. These undertakings make a reasonable amount of sense; however, it seems like the boys down in R & D are exacting a subtle revenge for the years of ridicule they suffered in being taunted as four-eyed geeks who sported pocket protectors and stood little chance of ever getting laid. Having since found their purpose in life, this so-called “nerd herd” appears to be on a mission transforming commonplace, electronic devices, regularly used by the average consumer into condescending jerks. Unconvinced? Allow me to elaborate.

Recently I read of a refrigerator found in hotels that automatically bills a guest for merely shifting its contents. Frankly, this is just spiteful. Why is it not sufficient for a fridge to just keep things cool? I mean is it really necessary to program a previously good-natured appliance to now cheat people out of their money like some kind of circus carnie all because an innocent curiosity to glimpse at a five-dollar bottle of spring water? I have never stayed at such an establishment utilizing this sordid manner of trickery; nor do I ever plan to. Such an excursion to prove my point would be unrequired considering the number of other contraption I own that are equally tactless.

My computer, for example is like sharing a cramped cubical with a mean-spirited and pretentious co-worker. Should we be tasked with a joint assignment, the computer just sits there, speaking only to point out my screw-ups or to announce it will be shutting down for an unscheduled break. Yes, it does claim to be “sorry for the inconvenience,” yet given the abruptness along with a denial to save any work, my computer’s feigned politeness is transparent. Supposedly it’s “sending an error report” to God only knows where – probably a buddy across town who will get a kick out of my unwitting stupidity. I suspect, however, that they also are exchanging the IP addresses of their latest internet discoveries which would explain the number of fetish porn sites listed in my browser history of late. When my wife interrogated me about this, I found it hard to ignore how the screensaver activated as if my computer was pretending to mind its own business, knowing full-well the identity of the real culprit. And it’s not just the uncooperativeness.

Many of the “help” function installed in my computer’s hard drive are anything but. Particularly obnoxious are the spell and grammar check features which criticize me to now end. Admittedly, I have a few shortcomings concerning my spelling abilities. Still, shaking a glaring red line in my face after accidentally switching the i and e in believe, makes me feel as if I were a puppy being berated for not going on the newspapers. Sickened, the spell check then tag-teams it’s grammar counterpart to finish me in this beat-down session on the fundamentals of English. With curt prompts like “fragment,” or “wordiness,” it is clear that the grammar check reserves both impatience and disgust for me as I fumble my war around the keyboard. Knowing that every word I type is being scrutinized by these two only compounds my apprehension, and when they offer me the option to “Ignore Once,” it feels like a trick that brings on a queasy uncertainty keeping me from selecting the more finite option of “Ignore All.” Even so, the spelling and grammar team manage to psych me out, causing me to second guess my decisions. “Are you sure about that?” they seem to say. “Oh well, that’s okay. You’ll just do it again. Losers like you never get it right.”

I am fully aware it is possible to disable these features. In fact, there is an undeniable appeal in this option as the concept of “disabling” gives me the impression of breaking my computer’s legs with a sledgehammer. However, for as much as I would like to do this, years of knuckle wrapping and psychological manipulation has stripped me of the self-confidence to go it alone. I am like the insecure girl continually running back to her abusive boyfriend knowing full-well she’ll only get smacked around some more. Of course, computers are easy to point out as unfeeling bullies. What about less obvious offenders, such as my microwave. Sensing weakness, it likewise joins in the degrading mockery directed at me by ostentatiously beeping every thirty seconds upon finishing its requested service. Fail to retrieve the leftover meatloaf that was reheating and suddenly I’m being admonished for the inconvenience I’m causing. “Bleep!” It’s as if the microwave has plans for the evening and I’m holding it up from leaving. “Bleep!” I’m sensitive enough as it is when I let other people down, it doesn’t help to beleive (I mean believe, sorry) the appliances are disappointed with me too.

Now I’ve learned there are products out there that “talk” to one another. Stereos talk to computers about music selections. Phones talk to home security systems, and televisions talk to refrigerators. This one in particular seems odd to me. I can see the stereo and computer engaging in a deep discussion over who was better, The Stones or The Beetles, but I have to imagine the TV and fridge are limited to only small talk and an occasional chuckle over how the fridge swindled some family out of $80 after the kids got a little rambunctious. Picturing the various devices in my home running in the same social circles distresses me. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out I am a complete moron when it come to operating anything with an electrical cord. This is no secret, but to know the TiVo and cable box are carrying on about it behind my back really hurts.

“Can you believe this guy?” the TiVo says as I take 30 minutes to figure out how to record a show. “I mean, I’ve seen some pretty stupid people in my time, but this retard takes the cake!”

“Ya, it’s guys like him that make me believe in natural selection,” the cable box responds. I hear them laughing.

“Natural selection! That’s good!” the TiVo says between breaths. “I gotta write that down.”

They remind me of a couple burly dockworkers taking cruel pleasure in picking on the scrawny, new guy. I put down the remote control and pull a throw pillow up to my face so they can’t see me crying. And it’s only getting worse.

The latest developments are products that not only make fun of you, but they intentionally boss you around as well. The other day I was walking through the electronics store and noticed the display for a digital camera that refuses to take a picture until those in the frame are smiling. At first I scoffed over such a ridiculous and impractical notion especially for families with angst-ridden teens who dress in black and hated the world, but my apathy was soon replaced with dread as I recognized this camera‘s ruthless and domineering nature. “SMILE, DAMN IT!” it screamed as my wife who was eagerly experimenting with it, pointed it in my direction. Faking a grin, I hoped to appease this new fangled digital dictator.

My wife pressed down on the button and nothing happened. “Well isn’t that just the deal,” she said. “This thing really does work. Looks like you need to make a little more effort, Hon.”

“I said SMIIIIILE, dipwad! Can you friggin’ say ‘CHEESE!’”

This time I over-exaggerated expression as if to show off my teeth at a dental examine. CLICK!

“This is so neat, Honey!” my wife said eyeing the price tag. There was a red light blinking on the camera.

“Now was that so hard, moron? I ready. Let’s do another one.”

I disappeared, cowering behind a rack of discounted movies in order to scroll through the address book for my shrink’s number. Maybe he could up my meds? It had only been three weeks since our last session, but all the progress gained in reclaiming my self-confidence had been blinked away in the flash of this evolutionary new techno-tyrant. I was vulnerable again. Every electronic device in the store seemed to be looking down at me devoid of pity or emotion as they chattered amongst themselves about the trembling idiot hiding in the shadow of DVDs staring has-beens like Ally Sheedy, Steven Segal, and Pauly Shore. I felt their screens, lenses and monitors burning holes in my back. I was sweating. Drops fell from my forehead. Where the hell’s his number? I can’t find it! And then, my phone sighed. “Allllright, bub. Whudja lose this time?”


I'm thrilled to have Ron from Clark Kent's Lunchbox as a guest blogger and blogger friend. He's become like a bloging mentor to me -His blog is what I wish my blog was like. I'm proud to say that he has a book comming out in the late summer/early fall of  this year.  Go check out his blog and you'll see just what a great writer he is.

I'm stealing this from his promotional page:

What happens when you take a successful corporate exec, lay him off and then stick him with kids who are complete strangers? You get Sugar Milk, the hilarious moments of an average father turned stay-at-home dad.

Sign up for updates on his book "Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can't Afford Vodka"


What did you think of this article?

  • No trackbacks exist for this post.

  • 7/17/2009 4:51 AM Nota Bene wrote:
    All my gadgets laugh at me behind my back because I don't know how to use them. I know they party together when I'm not looking and work out new ways of confuddling me
    Reply to this
  • 7/17/2009 6:08 AM Eileen wrote:
    I want to go back to simpler times when the oven just had dials to turn. Why does the oven need computer buttons and a clock?? Coffee makers are also getting a little too pimped up!! Just make the coffee!!!

    My post also had the word sledge hammer today. LOL
    Reply to this
  • 7/17/2009 9:15 AM IB wrote:
    My washing machine beeps incessantly when it's through with it's cycle. I hate the thing and have requested we never get one that "thinks" again.

    BTW- you misspelled "Beetles". The musical group is spelled: Beatles

    you're welcome
    Reply to this
  • 7/19/2009 6:33 PM Dr. Grumpy wrote:
    I saw that at Home Depot, a sign in appliances that said "The washer and dryer TALK to each other!"

    I can just see it:

    Dryer: "You asshole. You screwed up the towels. AGAIN."
    Reply to this
  • 7/20/2009 8:20 AM DCUrbanDad wrote:
    Soon enough we won't even need to walk anymore. Just like in Wall-E we will be fat blobs. I too long for the simple days.
    Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.


 Email (will not be published)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.