The Tech Force

"Them things just don't like me."

The woman at the end of the accusing finger pointing at my laptop edged cautiously towards the pub door, giving me a wide berth -- presumably in case the "thing" lashed out at her.

"I've tried, but they hate me, they do!"

Easy to dismiss such talk as the incoherent prattle of someone slightly unhinged. And yet, a part of me wonders whether she is not, on some level, quite right?

There certainly does appear to be a mischievous element to technology, which the failure to acknowledge can cause us to waste much time. I know this, and still I continue to apply logic to trouble-shooting issues, when what I should be doing is paying homage to, and attempting to placate, the Tech Force.

Think of the Tech Force not so much as a malignant power but a mischievous one. Unseen and unrecognised, it manifests itself at times such as one hour before an important deadline, or just when you were thinking of going to bed. There is no point in applying logic to the symptoms of the Tech Force's presence; all you can do is appeal to its better nature, and acknowledge its supremacy.

Over the past few days I have had ample opportunity to test my theory of the existence of the Tech Force.

A few days ago, we were suddenly unable to connect to the ICT in Education website. Given that this was the only website we were unable to access, a sense of panic ensued. Fortunately, after some fruitless checking of trouble-shooting forums, I remembered that last year when this happened I was able to resolve the situation by rebooting the wireless router. This I did, and it worked.

This angered the Tech Force. Yesterday, for no reason I could discern, the sound card on my computer stopped working. Restarting the computer resolved that one.

I laughed at the Tech Force. "Ha!", I said. (Try saying "Ha!" to a computer: it is most satisfying.) "Ha!", I said. "You will have to do better than that!"

It did. Last night I spent a miserable hour trying to figure out why I was no longer able to send any email. Receiving? No problem. Sending? Forget it. Typing the incomprehensible (to me, at any rate) error message into Google yielded nothing of any consequence. But then I looked at the error message again, and noticed that it seemed to be objecting to my IP address. I rebooted the wireless router (again), thereby obtaining a different IP address, and all was well.

But not for long. This morning, I wasted 15 minutes trying to synchronise my phone's calendar with my online calendar. In desperation I tried switching the phone off and on. It worked.

Last week, writer and blogger Joe Nutt coined the word "techle", which is the inadvertent interruption of a speaker by misbehaving technology. I almost agree with him: those of us who have come to know the Tech Force believe that there is nothing "inadvertent" about it.

And who are we to say that Ned Ludd and his intellectual descendants were not merely unwitting instruments of the Tech Force, having a good laugh at humanity's expense?

We are careful to get students and colleagues to approach technical problems systematically and with logic. There is nothing inherently logical about resolving a problem by switching something off and then on again or, as I have done on occasion, speaking nicely to an inanimate object. ("Come on, now. Remember that nice new antivirus upgrade I installed just an hour ago?)

Perhaps we should be telling them about the Tech Force too.