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Did you try hitting it?

In an earlier age, broken technology yielded to a firm hand. Today, some of it still does.

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Today I did something that said more about me than it did about my computer. I couldn't get a page to load, so in a fit of frustration I smacked the laptop. It didn't help, of course, but my reflexive act was something seeded a long time ago, when all you had to do to get something to work again was give it a good sharp rap.

Consider our family television, circa 1965. Every so often the picture would scroll. There was a thin knob on the back of the TV called the "vertical hold." If one were skillful enough, one could use this knob to steady the picture. If that didn't work, one could do what my father always did – bang on the top of the TV with the flat of his hand. More often than not, it did the trick, whereupon my family would settle in for an evening of Ed Sullivan.

Beyond televisions, a lot of devices required tough love. Our toaster was another good example. Once set, it would tick away with purpose, counting down the seconds until the toast leapt up like a jack-in-the-box. But now and then, even after the tick-tick-ticking was over, there was no climax. Once again, it was a job for Superhand. ! – and up flew the toast.

Televisions, radios, washers, electric drills... All manner of devices were prone to getting stuck. And more often than not a good jolt was all they needed to resume their appointed duties.

Contrast that with the electronic world we now inhabit. I eventually called our tech person and reported my computer's problem. He hummed disconsolately into the phone. "Did you try rebooting the device?" he probed. "No," I responded, "but you might say I gave it a good boot." "What do you mean?" he asked. And so I told him: "I hit it." He hummed more loudly and disconsolately. "Not a good thing to do," he said.

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