Dec 12, 2009 | Eugene, OR
Dec 12, 2009

Today around lunchtime I realized that home remedies, despite their folksy self-reliant appeal, should be left to the treatment of sore throats and stomach aches, but not relied upon to bring moribund hard drives back from the brink. So I traveled through the snowstorm over the Santiam Pass and down off the mountain, driving three hours to the nearest (unofficial) Apple store, to seek more expert counsel.

The "Eugene Mac Store" is located in a drab outdoor shopping mall, next to a discount furniture store and across the street from a biker bar called "The Horsehead". What it loses in stylish SoHo appeal it makes up for in friendliness. My 3PM appointment lasted well past closing time, and the diagnosis from the Apple Doctor was basically that my hard drive was ready to give up the fight and pass over to the great computer graveyard in the sky (either that or a landfill). I signed away my parental rights and left my ailing machine in their Mac hospital, where it will be examined first thing Monday morning, to determine the kind of surgery it will need to undergo later that day.

I stepped into the foggy streets of Eugene, with a new rented laptop under my arm, and stole one last glance at the workhorse that had served me so well these past couple of years, now stuck on the shelf with a phalanx of other sick computers.

I wandered through the fog and thought about my relationship with that machine. I thought about Werner Herzog's movie Grizzly Man, which chronicles the life of bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, who lived alone with a family of Grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness for 13 consecutive summers. Finally he was killed and eaten by one of the bears. Herzog says how Treadwell believed the bears had come to accept him, to love him, and to see him as one of their own. But the bears never ceased to be wild animals, motivated by wild impulses — curiosity, instinct, and hunger. Treadwell deluded himself into thinking he'd become like the bears, or that the bears had become like him, or that he and the bears were always one and the same anyway. This delusion ended up costing him.

Walking through the fog, it seemed that Timothy and his bears were not that different from me and my machine (or any of us and our machines). We place so much faith into something that doesn't (currently) understand what faith is, and then this thing we believe in abandons us and we are suddenly so hurt and shocked, but the thing doesn't understand any of these ideas. It is just being a machine or a wild animal.

There is this mock-philosophical dichotomy called Monkey vs. Robot, which basically contends that all humans fit the archetype either of the Monkey or the Robot. When they fight, the robot uses a ray gun, engineered in a factory, while the monkey hurls his feces. As the song goes: "Monkey hate technology / Robot hate the muh-on-key / They both love their mother / Why must they hate each other? / Mon-key ver-sus Ro-bot!"

I've always identified with the robot (and monkey people sometimes make me nervous), but tonight this dichotomy seemed like a delusion, too.

It is good to remember that we are neither monkeys nor robots, because both of these beasts are brutal, each in their own way. We can borrow from the extremes, but ultimately our moderation makes us human.