Did you try hitting it?

In an earlier age, broken technology yielded to a firm hand. Today, some of it still does.

Today I did something that said more about me than it did about my computer. I couldn't get a page to load, so in a fit of frustration I smacked the laptop. It didn't help, of course, but my reflexive act was something seeded a long time ago, when all you had to do to get something to work again was give it a good sharp rap.

Consider our family television, circa 1965. Every so often the picture would scroll. There was a thin knob on the back of the TV called the "vertical hold." If one were skillful enough, one could use this knob to steady the picture. If that didn't work, one could do what my father always did – bang on the top of the TV with the flat of his hand. More often than not, it did the trick, whereupon my family would settle in for an evening of Ed Sullivan.

Beyond televisions, a lot of devices required tough love. Our toaster was another good example. Once set, it would tick away with purpose, counting down the seconds until the toast leapt up like a jack-in-the-box. But now and then, even after the tick-tick-ticking was over, there was no climax. Once again, it was a job for Superhand. Smack! – and up flew the toast.

Televisions, radios, washers, electric drills... All manner of devices were prone to getting stuck. And more often than not a good jolt was all they needed to resume their appointed duties.

Contrast that with the electronic world we now inhabit. I eventually called our tech person and reported my computer's problem. He hummed disconsolately into the phone. "Did you try rebooting the device?" he probed. "No," I responded, "but you might say I gave it a good boot." "What do you mean?" he asked. And so I told him: "I hit it." He hummed more loudly and disconsolately. "Not a good thing to do," he said.

Of course he was right. But I was still despondent. Where once any of us could rectify a machine's problem with brute force, today we are utterly dependent upon people who know things we don't. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don't want to share their mystical knowledge, as happened once when I reported yet another computer malfunction.

The response I got from the technician sounded something like this: "It could be that the 'scuzzy' bus is not interfacing with the servoactuation diode, leading to a data nondisjunction." He might just as well have been speaking Algonquin. What could I do but throw myself on the mercy of the court?

How I miss the days when there was nothing a good whack couldn't put right. But just when I thought the age of the stuck device was long past, an affirming event occurred. I was coming out of a local store when I saw a man bent over the open hood of his car. I offered to help. "Try to start it," I directed. He got in and turned the key. Nothing. I jiggled the battery cables. "Try again." Still nothing. And then I recalled an old trick. "Do you have a hammer?" I asked. Locating the starter, I gave it a sharp, metallic Bang! "Try it now," I said, and the engine roared to life.

I accepted the driver's gratitude and watched as he drove off. But I was also grateful. Grateful that there are still devices that appreciate the counsel of a firm hand.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.