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.

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