A girlfriend of mine once half-joked that I was more intimate with my computer than with her. I don’t think she was suggesting David Cronenberg make a film about me, but the relationship I have with this ready-to-hand-24-7 aluminium work-and-play-pal is undeniably a close one. When I sleep alone it’s usually on the adjacent pillow. Many of us began our computing lives hands firmly around a joystick and now in this haptic age we are encouraged to caress our trackpads and iDevices like proxy lovers.
I am happy to admit that I’ve developed warm feelings towards lots of the tools I use on a daily basis, the ones which look nice and work well. But it’s what they do that matters. I love my coffee machine partly for its cheery curves but mostly because it makes my flesh and blood beloved a little less homicidal in the morning. I love my Dyson not just because even after sixteen years it looks like something from ‘the future’ but because it ruthlessly disappears the crumbs she leaves in her wake.
Similarly when I flip the power in my studio and a hundred lights blink back at me I glow in turn, excited by all this potential to make stuff. I haven’t ever gone as far as to give any of my machines names, but you can see why people are prone to anthropomorphise. Certainly my analogue synths have personalities, seem even to have moods, good days and bad days like the best of us. The fact that some people insist that their iPods are choosing the music rather than randomly shuffling it, says a lot more about us as social and emotional creatures than the fact that we mostly don’t understand probability.
And so it doesn’t seem to me odd two weeks ago to have written a short thank you letter to the man who helped shape so many of the machines I use on his retirement from Apple. For making a computer for people like me with no training in science or the dark arts of the command line, and for insisting that it wasn’t wrong to experience delight or wonder in its use. Our affection for the objects we use to make things ought sometimes to be directed at the people who in turn made them; the likes of Bob Moog, Leo Fender, Dave Smith and Steve Jobs. Blessed are the tool-makers, the dreamers of our dreams.