#27 - The Way Things Break

The last time my laptop quit on me, I stared at it in shocked disbelief, like I’d been stabbed in the back. I thought about hurling it across the room, but settled on shaking it mercilessly, demanding that it come back to its senses.

But the last time my Saab sputtered and struggled to start, I was full of positive affirmations and encouragement as I tweaked the choke and feathered the throttle, trying to coax it back to life.

Half of me feels like I don’t have split personalities, so why were my reactions so different between the two? I think it’s down to the way the laptop and the Saab failed. I’ve never given much thought to how failures make people feel before, because that’s not exactly a big concern when it comes to aerospace failures. After thinking for a bit, I came up with two factors -- the first of which is how loudly or visibly the thing breaking tries to hold on.

On the one hand, the laptop quit silently, like a petulant child crossing his arms and stubbornly refusing to do his chores. On the other, the Saab wheezed and coughed, like that wounded character in every action movie who groans as he gamely tries to keep pace, before finally saying something heroic like “Go on without me!” By making an audible effort, the Saab got my sympathy in a way that my laptop could not. Logically, I know that the laptop likely did more to try to resolve its issue than the Saab, but that didn’t change how I felt in the moment. It’s probably the same reason we all love that shirt that’s got more holes than fabric.

The second factor I came up with was how the laptop and the Saab communicated what they needed from me. The laptop displayed some error message that was unsurprisingly unhelpful. I know it has the ability to tell me exactly what it needs, but it speaks in riddles and expects me to figure out what it wants, like some displeased deity. With the Saab, it felt more like I was interacting with a puppy or baby -- though it doesn’t have the ability to communicate precisely, it tries its best, and I’m happy trying to figure out how to please it.

So what does this mean? It means that we should have laptops smoke and make useless noises whenever there’s an error. According to my ideas, that should be a much less frustrating experience...


Corrections? Questions? Comments? I’d love to have your input. Leave a comment, email me at surjan@substack.com, or find me on LinkedIn.

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Drawing exercise #16. If you missed it, here’s why I’m learning to draw.