I've Seen the Future (Part 2)

There's some emotional states we just don't have words for in English. We had to import "schadenfreude" from the German, even though we probably do more of it than the Germans. Some of it we do at the Germans.

"Feierabend" isn't just "finishing work time" but "the moment I stop being a bored employee and become a human being" - something we all understand, but for some bizarre reason don't have a word for.

There's the Portuguese notion of "pink dreams" - night and day dreams somewhere in no-man's-land between erotic and romantic. And the wonderful Yaghan word "mamihlapinatapai", meaning something like "the expressions on the faces of two people who both want to do something but which both want the other to initiate because they're scared to do it themselves".

What about that sinking feeling when you're halfway through confidently holding forth on some subject when you realise you don't understand it as well as you thought? I think there's a whole range of sinking feelings, ranging from "Why did I agree to do this?" and "This person was so interesting before they spoke" to "Why am I bothering to explain this to you, because you're clearly not listening?" and "Did I really enjoy doing this once?"

Then there's all those anticipatory feelings - from "It's going to be one of those days" and "Anything I do to make things better will just make them worse" to "It's going to be so nice when you finally get to the end of that sentence, because then I can say the really smart thing I've just thought of - so hurry up and fucking finish!"

Now, yesterday I lent an old reel-to-reel tape machine to an elderly lady who wanted to play back a large collection of tapes she'd inherited. Two hours later she called to say she couldn't work out how to make it play. I'd tested the machine myself and explained how it worked, but apparently it wasn't working. So could I come 'round to fix it.

It was at this point I got my own special emotion of expectation - the Technician's Anticipated Incredulous Stare. This is where you know the technical problem will be so mindmanglingly trivial that a four year old could solve it, but for some reason a sophisticated adult can't.

Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of technical problems whose solution is very simple, but also counterintitive, or relies on specialist knowledge, and the fact that an ordinary user can't solve them is a comment on the designer, not the user. The TAIS is reserved for solutions like "To switch it on, press the big button marked 'On'", or "You can't watch a DVD on a CD player", and "The computer doesn't know what you want because it isn't telepathic, you staggeringly moronic waste of carbon".

So, I felt that whatever the problem was, it would take one second to diagnose, five seconds to fix, and an effort of will not to gape in slack jawed incredulity. You think I'm being unfair? This was the problem:

For a reel-to-reel tape to play, it must be threaded from one reel to the other, via the read-head. The clue is in the name.

I asked if she'd ever used such a machine before? Yes, she had, but it had been nearly twenty years ago, so she'd forgotten.

She then asked me why her washing machine wasn't working, and how to change the PIN on her new phone. The latter went like this:

Lady: It says "Enter PIN".

Kap: Well if you know your PIN you can...

Lady: So I just put in four number?

Kap: Hang on, is it asking you for your existing PIN, or for a new...

Lady: It says "PIN rejected".

Kap: Um, okay. That means it was asking for your old...

Lady: Let me try again.

Kap: Do you know your existing...

Lady: It says "PIN rejected" again.

Kap: Okay, don't try it again. If you enter a wrong code three times...

Lady: Oh, it says "Phone Locked". What does that mean?

Kap: Um. It means you need to take it back to the shop and get it unlocked, and get them to tell you the phone's default PIN...

Lady: What's a PIN?

Nice lady, just not very good at technology. Or listening.

Apparently I was "very kind"

Mother's birthday. Tea and cream cakes. Shortly followed by more tea and more cream cakes.

The school has three televisions for playing DVDs on. It also has one DVD player and no DVDs.

So I made my own, and played a subtitled episode of Dad's Army to my Spanish teenagers. They rather liked it - but said they'd prefer Benny Hill. Before launching into a vocal rendition of Yakity Sax.

I reckon a film on Fridays would go down well. What do you think - Dr No or Quatermass and the Pit?


  1. 'schadenfreude' I know and use. 'Feierabend' I've never heard of, though love it when it happens. 'Mamihlapinatapai' is going straight into a song ... if I can work out the pronunciation.

    I adore your blog!

  2. I'm technically rather inept but I meet people who are even less capable than me surprisingly frequently.

    I look forward now to lording it over them with a simple, "The computer doesn't know what you want because it isn't telepathic, you staggeringly moronic waste of carbon".

    Excellent post.

    *applauds and ponders which button to push...preview? or publish?*