The hammering came as a low thud under the timid strikes of uncertainty, it’s commander having not yet found the courage to follow through with their conviction. If the hammerer’s intention was courtesy, it would have been better expressed by the loud pounding of someone who was almost finished, but this reticent tapping went on for hours. It was so that the event kept me from sleep on a holiday morning, and rousing to my kettle I met with more misplaced courtesy; a hotplate determined to stay cool. Perhaps its intention was to prevent a fire or the unexpected whistle of boiling water—my safety and comfort being its top priorities. Yet, when it came time for it to perform as I desired, it merely sat there—and this wasn’t the first time either.
The hotplate and I have an eight-month history of quarreling, and when I say quarreling, I mean to say that it lay still as I throw thumbs at its power switch.
This morning was met with the familiar dance and I tapped the button with the same mounting desperation as I had so many times before, hoping that this time might be different. The fervent wanting of each attempt began a strange abstract measurement of my worth as a human being: if I can’t get a hotplate to do what I want, I might as well give up on my real dreams. But the truth about that is, every so often, my dream is to have some damn hot tea or warm nourishment for a body that can’t cook well to begin with. So, at the mercy of its intransigence, I began a sick game of probability whose outcome, as far as I saw it, carried a penalty far devastating than Russian roulette; in Russian roulette only one person will perish by a gunshot, in this game with a hotplate, I might be driven to shoot hordes of people out of pure frustration.
Negotiations began friendly enough, as the first punches were soft and carried the sincere message of a desire for compromise. I light heartily tapped the “on” switch once. Twice. Three times. Upon jamming my thumb and index finger into the little red button enough to make my knuckles sore, my attempts insisted with more force meant to convince myself that I was indeed making progress. Soon, things would progress to a point when I began to personify the unyielding nature of the hotplate. The personification of a machine that won’t work often turns into an argument complete with dialogue uttered aloud, the machine having opted to invoke the silent treatment as its main strategy. The silent treatment is tricky as it provides little or no evidence of its victim’s progress. This effect and its produced anxieties—and subsequent insanity—are amplified when dealing with a non-living thing.
Emotions go a long way in the art of persuasion, but because my target had none of these, I was subjected to the black and white certainty of switches that either worked or failed. So there I was, trying to sweet talk my hotplate into being reasonable.
I started out with the intention of preserving some dignity.
“I really don’t have time for this today”
This quickly gave way to desperation and pleading.
“Come on, Please!”
“Okay please this time, I’ll do anything, just turn on!”
Begging about functionality to an object that has no such control over its own is a depressingly futile thing; I know this well, and it continues to shame me.
This relationship of broken technology and dependent human can eventually progress to bargaining, but unless you are clinically insane, the actual transaction doesn’t take place and is reduced to the shouting of empty claims. Most disturbingly, when I came to this point I felt like a liar in many ways. Firstly, despite years of study, I posses no real knowledge about what might be valuable to a hotplate—an essential element for bargaining with one. Secondly, my offerings were blurting out with the sure understanding that this hotplate would never receive anything of what I promised. In this situation, blatant dishonesty and the potential repercussions for wielding it were unnerving, because as I am aware of my own capabilities, the vengeance of a fickle kitchen appliance is relatively unknown to me.
That’s what happens though; in moments of desperation you ditch sincerity for results. I am selfish. I am a liar. I am only interested in what happens for me because what happens for me is the only way I can measure my worth and my life, and I need to measure my worth and my life, constantly.
When the struggle reached 15 minutes, the absurdity of the situation began to challenge my beliefs. Maybe I don’t need tea. Maybe I’ll save electricity this way. Maybe I’ll get out of this damn apartment and not sit down and not indulge in the grand taste of a hot beverage that allows me a sufficient social excuse to browse the internet senselessly until I’m finished drinking it. Maybe I should give up.
And that’s exactly what I did. I gave up, and the hotplate turned on.