Meriel (sea_bright) wrote,

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An Allegory

I got a new laptop last week. It’s extremely shiny. By a sheer accident of timing, I got one of the first machines with Windows 7 on it. Thus far, where I’ve noticed differences, I’m mostly liking them. It’s also lovely to have a computer that doesn’t groan when I ask it to do something quite simple, and with a screen that isn’t slowly failing...

On a less positive note, it also has Office 2007 on it.

In many ways, this is turning out to be pretty much as I expected. But imagine my surprise when I got in from work yesterday to find a strange man in the living room. He introduced himself as Mike (I didn’t quite catch his surname, but it sounded something like Crowsough), and said he was there to complete my Windows 7/Office 2007 user experience. I dropped a few hints that it would have been nice to know he was coming (and perhaps even to have been given some choice about whether he came at all), but given how hard he seemed to have worked, I didn’t want to sound ungrateful.

The first thing I noticed was that he’d redecorated the house completely.

He’d put up the very latest in wallpaper, and fitted new translucent window frames (I’m not sure what the point of these is, but they are quite pretty). The way that the patterns on the walls change abruptly every half hour was a little bit of a shock when it first happened, but I’m starting to get used to it. It was a comparatively simple process to get rid of the designs I hated most, and apparently, if I have an hour to spare to work out how to navigate the control system at some point, I can add designs of my own choosing. No time for that last night, however – Mike was eager for me to look at what else he’d done.

The second thing I noticed was the lack of clutter. Now, anyone who’s been to our house will know that clutter is an ongoing problem (too much stuff, too little space to store it, and too little time in which to sort it), so I was particularly pleased about this. I’ve never seen the surfaces looking so clear – and the room looked so much bigger! I was a little sorry to see that the books had gone along with everything else, but when Mike explained that they were now stored in some sort of hi-tech auto-retrieval system in the garage, I quickly saw the wisdom of this decision. Now, instead of having the hassle of wandering over to the bookshelf and grabbing something I like the look of, I simply need to remember where I left the garage key, unlock the door and head down there, then type a keyword into the user-friendly control panel. The system then hunts through the books and gives me a shortlist of titles it thinks look promising, and only minutes later a volume that’s just what I was looking for (probably) is delivered into my hand. What could be simpler?

Mike had also taken away our old chairs and replaced them with auto-stacking ones, which gives us quite a bit more space. It’s a little alarming to stand up and see the chair you were sitting on disappear from under you and reappear on top of the pile (potential for a few amusing accidents there!), but I’m sure I’ll get used to it, and it’s the work of moments to unstack it and carry it back across the room when you want to sit down again.

At this point I had to excuse myself, as I needed to powder my nose. I returned rapidly, though, more than a little confused. Mike explained. Before the upgrade, our house had an upstairs bathroom and a downstairs loo. But this is clearly madness: why on earth would we want to waste valuable space with such pointless duplication? Mike’s team had been observing my behaviour, and had realized that at least twice a year, I invite a friend round to watch a DVD, so to complement this, they’d transformed the downstairs loo into a popcorn and hot dog station. I must admit the popcorn is very good, and while I don’t eat hotdogs myself, I’m sure they’ll be appreciated by meat-eating visitors.

Belatedly remembering my manners, I offered Mike a cup of tea. I was momentarily puzzled when I turned on the tap and no water came out, but quickly realized what was going on (further reduction of pointless duplication, of course!) and tripped merrily up two flights of stairs to fill the kettle in the bathroom. Finding the mugs took a little while, as the kitchen had been reorganized according to what Mike assured me was a far more sensible plan than the one we’d had before. Half the worktop space is now taken up by a couple of obscure appliances I’d forgotten we even had, but although I’m still not quite sure what they’re for, apparently they are precisely the sort of thing the majority of kitchen users use most (or perhaps it was ought to use most – I forget), and I’ll appreciate the benefits of having them there in time. (I must admit I did try to move one of them back into the cupboard when Mike wasn’t looking, but he’d anticipated this, and nailed them to the worktop!)

While I was making the tea, I heard the front door – one of my housemates was home. However, when I went back into the living room, neither Mike nor my housemate appeared to be there. Instead, there was a single vaguely person shaped object. I touched it tentatively, and miniature versions of both Mike and my housemate sprouted out of its shoulders. Once I’d worked out how to get full sized versions of both of them back (simple, really: you just tap whoever you’d like to speak to on the arm), Mike explained: many people find that having more than one other person in the living room is confusing (not to mention cluttered), so this new system combines them, and you just call up whichever one you want as appropriate. It did strike me that this might make having three-way conversations awkward, but it seemed petty to quibble when the benefits were so obvious.

The final thing Mike wanted to show me was the new sofa-replacement. I say sofa-replacement rather than sofa because it’s actually more like a row of three chairs. Mike’s team had done some research, and found that the primary use of sofas is for sitting, so they’ve designed one that allows you to do that optimally – and they’ve done an excellent job: the chairs are amazingly comfortable. The dividers between the seats mean it’s less good if you want to sprawl out a bit or lie down (and taking a nap is pretty much out of the question), but as Mike pointed out, if I want to lie down, I have a bed upstairs!

I did point out that the old sofa folded out into a bed, which was very handy when we had visitors, and that I was a little disappointed that the new version didn’t have this option. For the first time, Mike started to look a bit irritated. “You. Already. Have. A. Bed. Upstairs” he said tetchily, and it was hard to argue with that.



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