Being in an if-you-get-cut-I-bleed relationship

Ah, the first post of the new year. As it is going to be a sombre one, let me start with a little joke. I’m not sure how old this joke is, but I only came to know it a couple of weeks ago through a friend’s Facebook feed.

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine. ‘House’, for instance, is feminine: ‘la casa’. ‘Pencil’, however, is masculine: ‘el lapiz’. A student asked, “What gender is ‘computer’?” Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether ‘computer’ should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was also asked to give four reasons for its recommendation. The men’s group decided that the computer should definitely be of the feminine gender (‘la computadora’) because: (i) No one but their creator understands their internal logic; (ii) The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else; (iii) Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for possible later retrieval; and (iv) As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it. The women’s group, however, concluded that the computer should be masculine (‘el computador’) because: (i) In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on; (ii) They have a lot of data but still can’t think for themselves; (iii) They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem, and (iv) As soon as you commit to one, you realise that if you had waited a little longer, you could have got a better model. (By the way, for your information, it is a masculine noun.)

20090102_the_media_equationA friend of mine once described his attachment to his laptop as “like having an asexual girlfriend”. Well, I giggled at that time, but come to think of it, I have a worse case. My relationship is even maternal in nature. If I share an anecdote here at the risk of sounding crazy, my sister once walked into my room and ‘caught’ me placing my ear on my then laptop. She of course couldn’t help commenting, “What now? Are you listening to his heartbeat or something?” (I started to refer to my laptop as ‘him’ – and insist that others do too – way before hearing the above joke.) Not only that I am caring and protective towards him, but also that when he seems unwell, I too feel unwell. Literally. Recall the scene where Elliot and ET get telepathically drunk together. It’s just like so.

[* Image: book cover of Reeves and Nass’ The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places]

For the last few days, my one-year-old Macbook has been making an awful lot of noise – as if it is about to take off (as in the sense of leaving the ground like an airplane). The helpline told me after a few troubleshooting routines in vain that I must take him into one of their technical units for a thorough checkup. I’ve already made an appointment and everything, but as you can imagine, I’m having a bout of lethargy.

Female literature before the ‘modern’ era wasn’t exactly robust in Korea and the only few remaining pieces are hardly talked about other than in school curricula. Among the pieces, there is 조침문(弔針文), a letter of condolence by an anonymous lady (aka Mrs Yu) for her broken needle[!]. When I was first taught about it, I didn’t care for it because I could so easily picture this lady in my head, who was most likely isolated from social interaction for conventional reasons and keeping herself occupied by sewing.

However, now I’m a lot more sympathetic to the authoress. Now I can see that it wasn’t about women’s self-emancipation; it was about a relationship with an object close to one’s heart. I, of all people, should have appreciated it better.

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