Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Most of a Machine

The weekend kills me, every time. Because I spend it actually doing things, I don't have the time to write a blog post. So I either do it at the last minute on the due date, or I do it late, as was the case last weekend. Which means my schedule bunches up, and I'm exhausted from the last time, which is why today I am too tired to do my first 'Hypothetical', which was the original plan. Especially since I have stuff to do today.
See, the reason why I was busy on the weekend was because I was buying a car. That's also the reason I am busy today, I have finances, insurance and other crap to finalize. But luckily, the same thing that's holding me back, is also going to be my jumping off point. Sure, I can't do a 'Hypothetical', but since I've had this car in my possession, another word has been rattling around in my brain.
The Word of the Day is: 'PERSONIFICATION'.

Personification /pəsonəfə'kayshən/ n. 1. the giving of personal nature or character to animals, non-living objects or abstract notions, especially as a rhetorical device, as in: The book was begging to be opened. 2. Art, etc. The representation of a thing or abstraction in the form of a person. 3. A person or thing representing a quality or the like, embodiment: Hamlet is the personification of unhappiness. 4. An imaginary person or creature thought to represent a thing or abstraction: The Grim Reaper is the personification of Death.

Now, I'm not always one to personify inanimate objects. Isn't that right dictionary? . . .
I think he's ignoring me.
But as soon as I bought my car on the weekend, there was one particular thought in my mind: "What am I going to call it?"
Of course, cars don't really need names, and can well do without. But it's kind of a tradition in our family. We often name cars based off the letters in their number plates. For example, my parents owned a small, blue hatchback  before I was born, and they called it 'Ruby', despite it's colour, because the number plate said 'RBY'. And as a Word Nerd, I liked the idea. It's sort of a challenge. Given any assortment of letters, one has to find a name. Next time you're on a long road trip, I suggest you challenge yourself to name the surrounding cars based on their number plates. Watch out for them Q's!

But as an Absurd Word Nerd, naming the car was much more than a naming game. Because at the end of the day, that is the name I am going to be giving the car. Because when I describe my car, I don't want to be all:
  "Brand/Sub-category, V6, 5-Speed, Manual, etcetera . . ." because I am not a 'car guy'. There are those out there than understand all of that, and to them it is wrought with meaning and beauty. But to me, it's just a classification.
That is what a car does, not what a car is. Not to me. Because what a car does is take you from place to place at speed.
But what it is is so much more than that.
It's my only means of transport. I entrust my life to this thing every time I drive it. I can see the reality of gears, machinery, science & combustion all working together, but it all seems so heartless. It's just a thing after all.
But when I choose to name it, it becomes more than a car. Because I don't really like thinking about it just as a thing I own.

It's the same way, to me, as a lot of people are with their pets. You name your pet, people play with it, talk to it & imagine its own emotions and personality.
But it's just a dog.
Does your dog realize you called it 'Fido' because it is the latin word for loyal? No, it only understands it as "Noise Human makes when Human wants Me".
And does it understand how much you paid for that collar? Does it understand that you're giving it a bigger lunch today because today is it's birthday?
No. It's a dog! But you love it anyway.

I see the same notion, take to its logical extreme. I have applied human characteristics on something that not only isn't intelligent, but has no soul.

Because despite those failings, it acts and reacts in ways that I can recognize, and which have either infrequency, regularity or logic to them that I can describe as behaviour. In fact, the car is parked outside my window, and when I look outside, I can't help but see a face: Two flat eyes, a grill-plate nose and the buck-toothed grin from the number plate in the middle of the bumper bar.
Most people do, in fact. That's why sports car manufacturers, for the most part, make their headlights thinner. It makes the car's 'face' look angry, or intense.
So with all that in mind, I do trust my life to this machine. And, in a manner of thinking, could one perhaps say that it trusts me? If the car is to crash, it will probably be my fault. Every time I sit in that seat, both the car and I could be destroyed, and then broken down into our component parts. We trust in one another each time I turn the key.

But when I was thinking about this the other day, it struck a chord. Because I came across something. A strange thought:
What if we do this - this personification thing - not out of a desire for recognition or familiarity? Rather, what if we do this out of fear?

Could it be that we are afraid that, perhaps, there are things that we come to trust that do not trust us?
That to see this for what it is, a simple reaction of physics in an open system, we would crumble and cry from the despair of it all.
That rather than a man and his mechanical friend, it's just you, and a machine that is designed to explode constantly, wrapped in safety belts, air bags & the prayer that everyone else on the road is as scared of death as you.

Could it be? . . . perhaps.

But in my eternal quest to justify everything, and answer every question, I don't believe that to be true.To me, the personification of a car is a matter of necessary evil. Or should I say, necessary ignorance.
See, if I was into cars, then I wouldn't need all this. I wouldn't need to pretend that I can trust a car. Because I would already know. I would know exactly how it works. I'd know the physics, I'd know the mechanics. I'd know the verity of V6, the ferocity of fuel injection & the tenacity of torque.
I would have as much faith in the turn of the wheel, as a mathematician would have in the square root of pi. Because I would know.

But I don't know. I spend my mental space with reading, writing, learning & teaching. I don't have space in their for whatever the hell a turbo does, or the metallurgical properties of a chassis. So I have faith in those that do.
And rather than believe in a complicated equation, or set of principles, I trust in Gemini, my little white sedan, that there is a reason that she does what she does, even if I don't understand it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go wax my car in a totally non-sexual way.


  1. I think it's so interesting that humans have that urge to connect not only with other people but with pretty much everything we come in contact with, and particularly with things we don't totally understand the mechanics of.

    My grandparents named the sweet little Pontiac Pursuit I bought for my small-town reporter gig, "The Hot Pursuit" and by the time I left for the city and had to sell it, that car had heard my thoughts on just about everything under the sun.

    1. Well think about it, what's crazier: Talking to a Pontiac Pursuit, Or Talking to yourself?
      It's a way of being alone, without being alone. And you don't have to worry about your car telling everyone your secrets, do you?


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