THE BEST gift I received from a work acquaintance this year is a calculator.
It's grey and no bigger than my hand. It has large, clearly labeled buttons, the most important being the ones that say “ON” and “OFF.”
Best of all, it makes no sound.
In the age of greeting and conversing automated teller machines, a gadget that goes about its work with quiet efficiency is my favorite technology.
I still remember the discovery I made during an early morning study. While reading in our deserted faculty room, which has a grand tradition of being peculiar, if not haunted, I heard strange sounds ping-ing from nowhere.
The crazed outbursts made me want to ricochet, too, off the walls. A desperate check behind a divider, however, did not turn up a phantom gamer. A colleague was doing sums. Her choice of weapon: a calculator of the yodeling variety.
In fairness, marketing geniuses have toned down technology. The chances of coming upon a gadget that screams for your attention in the mall are now reduced to nil. Clicks and murmurs have taken over the pings. Matte retro dulls the screaming silvers and black braggadocio of old. In looks and in sound, technology taps a deep vein of minimalism.
It figures: the features of devices have to be refined to a whisper as, with today's runaway price tags, there's no room for another shock.
If you have tried techno shopping, you may be familiar with that vacuum of absolute silence created from the second you nonchalantly flip over a softly gleaming device and come upon your moment of truth, the minute your hoarded mathematical knowhow kicks in and you are finally able to make sense of the forest of zeros and commas that critically precede, not follow, the decimal point.
Deep, deep hush.
If the price chokes, the natural reflex should be to gag, remove the obstruction, and resume normal respiration. But when it finally sinks in that I have to mutate into some kind of feline with a thousand lifetimes, or keep a lifestyle of a particularly dexterous cat burglar, just to afford even one set of those cold, brilliant zeros, I've learned to put mind over matter, and gag and cough anywhere else except around that treasure of ingenuity in toned-down luxe finish.
Fortunately, just as the Lent of fasting and abstinence purges the soul of the first half of the year's excesses, Christmas with its sharp tinsel glitter is excruciatingly good at pricking vain ambitions still lingering at the end of the year.
Some never learn, though. As I have three boys (one husband, two sons) with a love for the newfangled, I always find myself cramming for the holidays, scanning brochures and entering stores that tax already my grasp of technological English.
For instance, why are gadgets always named using acronyms? Why use, for instance, DR-BT21G, a ponderous soup of alphabet and numbers for what looks like a thin coil with earmuffs?
Even if this is shorter and more hip to write on a tag than “streetstyle Bluetooth stereo headphones,” doesn't an unpronounceable acronym make customers pause an inordinately dangerous time to ponder the imponderables: how is DR-BT21G an improvement over, say, the earlier model, CQ-AS20F? Or what if I decide to wait for the new and improved version of ES-CU22H to be released so I can now afford the slightly older and thus slightly marked down DR-BT21G?
When my eyes roll back and I am one breath away from frothing in the mouth, my boys know well enough to pull me away from a showcase of the brave new future.
It figures: devices and gadgets are toned down to a suave whisper as more than ample acoustics are provided by the screaming wreck being dragged from the scene of crime.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 16, 2007 issue