Man and Machine

“What’s the first letter of the alphabet?”


“Okay… then turn it to A.”


“Now twiddle the little whirly thing all the way…”

This conversation came to you courtesy of mother and son. No, not a toddler and young mother… the son is nearly 30… and Mum still has all her marbles… well, I like to think I do. My sons would beg to differ on that point, of course. As  matter of principle.

This was a highly technical conversation… but he’d lost me early on so he decided to dumb it down a bit.

My son is teaching himself photography, and while I am seldom found without a camera in my hand I have no real understanding of the mechanics of the thing beyond the basic optics I learned in physics. I certainly don’t have a fraction of his technical ability… and he’s trying to share that with me. Mostly unsuccessfully, I have to add.

I’m not bad with technology, though, as a rule. It doesn’t scare me and I can generally work it out. My sons, however, have grown in an era when the technological advances come so thick and fast into our everyday lives that while they have developed an almost instinctive understanding of it, I question whether we have almost lost the sense of wonder as we daily see the science fiction of our childhood become mundane gadgetry. Some of the stuff we use every day has outstripped anything those of us who watched the first moon landing might have imagined as possible. We even take for granted the way we can type on a screen and be read instantaneously all across the world. Technology is in every corner of our lives.

Even the dog is microchipped.

Yet for all the incredible gadgets around us, it is the ‘human’ things that still move us the most. I include Ani in this category. Not because she clearly thinks she is head of the household (and she may well be right about that…) but because it is through very human qualities that we interact.

I was crying earlier… call me a wuss, or whatever local epithet fits best…. There was a video. One of those from dog rescues… and we’ve probably all stumbled across many of them. Old dog dying in the street, rescued, cleaned, fed and given a  home for what were literally its final few hours. They could have put the dog to sleep given the state it was in, but chose instead to give a little care and allow the dog to know companionship, touch and love.

As she always does, Ani picked up straight away on the tears, and I watched the video with her head on my knee, my hands in her fur as she waited in stillness until she decided I was ready to be cheered up and brought the ball.

Those few minutes sort of said it all really. While my mind and emotions reacted to the story that technology brought to my attention, the physical sense of touch and warmth, the comfort of an aware presence that cares enough to respond to changing emotions, the love I feel for the little monster whose muddy paw prints currently decorate the sofa… again… all were engaged and very present.

It made me think about how real our lives are.

Virtual reality through television, computers, smartphones and the like is a constant bombardment of information, stimulating the mind and emotions… but only if we allow them to. We can also lose ourselves in the detachment and distance that technology allows. We can allow the bombardment to numb the mind and emotions. Yet when we treat them as the tools they are and allow ourselves to see and feel, they open a wealth of possibilities to us.

But those possibilities would have no meaning for us if we had nothing to relate them to. Would I have wept at the video if I had never loved a dog? Or simply if I had never loved? Or laughed with my son at the role reversal as he tried to explain as if to a child, had I never experienced that before?

More than ever we have the world of experience at our fingertips. And all experience matters, as it fuels our understanding of the world around us… and the world within. We can let it wash over us as mindless waves as we vegetate in front of a box, or we can use it as the building blocks of growth.

It reminds me of the Lego days… days when we would empty the box of mismatched bricks on the floor… and like experience, they hurt if you tread on them with bare feet… but the possibilities for the imagination to take flight were endless. Even if the shapes were angular, the aeroplanes unflightworthy and the castles just miniatures… you could build something that could transport you to another place where imagination changed all the rules and anything was possible.