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Is there an app for humanity?

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In this Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 photo, a person demonstrates using a credit card in an ATM machine in Pittsburgh. ricans stepped up borrowing in January to buy cars and attend school, while staying cautious about using their credit cards. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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In this Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 photo, a person demonstrates using a credit card in an ATM machine in Pittsburgh. ricans stepped up borrowing in January to buy cars and attend school, while staying cautious about using their credit cards. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

BRISBANE -- The automated banking machine tells me it's off duty -- closed for business.

"Currently unavailable'' is the abrupt message replacing that cheerfully scrawled "back in five minutes'' sign that once dangled from a country store door.

An inexplicable rage suddenly wells within. I mutter violent oaths, demanding of an empty Brisbane car park what on earth the purpose of this machine is if not to process my simple bank withdrawal?

What other activities could this obtuse, doltish creation be engaged in at 2 p.m. this sunny, Sunday afternoon that is preventing it servicing my needs?

Beach vollleyball? Off hunting the Minke whale?

For what has this slow-witted, fat-headed, whirring, clicking, imbecilic piece of soulless technology stolen the job of a real human being with warm blood running through their veins when it can't even bother remaining at its post on a weekend?

"Not that I care about job losses,'' I hiss at the impassive screen.

"I don't care about anyone because I happen to know that you and all those automated computer messages and electronic phone voices bombarding my life are conspiring to turn my brain into an integrated circuit and outsource it to a global capitalist cabal -- possibly Big Pharma."

I drive home at speed and feverishly fashion a snug-fitting hat out of tin foil to better shield my brain from the electromagnetic field, but a friend drops by with a carton of beer.

And soon, under the calming influence of cold ale and the quiet counsel of my wise companion, I regain perspective.

Discarding my hat with a rueful chuckle, I agree I have over-reacted to a fascinating age of technology serving humanity well.

And so we while away the afternoon, drinking beer and working on my pleasantly eccentric friend's plans to move to a cabin in the woods, study the works of Jacques Ellul and send odd packages to federal law enforcement officials.

In the unlikely event law enforcement authorities monitor this column the last few paragraphs are totally untrue.

I don't have a close friend kind enough to bring over a carton of beer. I do sometimes ponder living the life of a Down Under (non-violent) version of the Unabomber.

In a world accepting the cold embrace of Hal 9000 -- that chatty computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- perhaps the tin hatted, Luddite lunatics have a case.

The world-wide web is a miracle opening our minds to the vast store house of human knowledge etc. but this strange fixation on a soulless screen at almost every juncture in our lives must have unintended consequences.

That ancient communication device, the human voice, is being replaced by cold interactions with obdurate machinery and the simultaneous rise of so much red-faced rage might not be the coincidence I hope it is.

At the airport I timidly approach a desk and ask to book a fight four weeks in advance and am told with a fake smile, that camouflages a simmering fury at my naivety, to go home and do it on-line.

On the bus home from the pub I stumble aboard and gaze cheerily at my fellow passengers who would once have been chatting with one another in a mildly inebriated haze on this late Friday afternoon.

I'm greeted with two rows of silent bowed head, all interacting grimly with a tiny pool of light radiating from their hand-held phone.

Outside the shop where I get my morning paper there's a group of early morning risers. Mostly in late middle age and of Greek extraction, they gather to sit on wobbly chairs or a nearby retaining wall.

Some ancient genetic impulse appears to draw them together to drink coffee and, from what I can tell from overheard snatches of conversation, argue vehemently with one another.

There are no electronic devices in sight. Only discarded coffee cups and scattered newspapers.

Amid their rancorous cries and counter accusations there's another exclusively human sound which sounds so precious as we gaze into the Pied Piper light of the computer screen and silently punch out mean-spirited, hate-filled missives about things that don't matter to people we don't know:

Laughter.

 

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2013 A11

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