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Distant relations

Nowhere is the asymmetrical relationship between capital and labour more painfully evident, than in the ownership of a home computer.

There you are, the apparent owner of the technology – you have paid a hefty price to become its owner – in the middle of composing a densely argued essay on some complex subject at which you imagine you are vaguely expert, when, field by field, the text, the other elements of your composition, the search and formatting bars, and finally even the icons on your desktop, your currency converter, the little bowl of tulips you water every day, begin to disappear. Surely a metaphor for our existence on earth.

After a minute or so, you are left with a pretty blue screen and a message informing you coldly that They are Preparing to Configure Windows Updates – 15% complete – Do Not Turn Off Your Computer. And a minute or so later still, the screen announces ‘Switching off’, and you are left in total darkness, your thoughts in turmoil, the thread of your argument – along with your patience – irreparably snapped. After a minute or two’s deep thought, the screen lights up again, only to present you with the news that it is now Configuring Windows Updates, and requesting further complete submissiveness on your part.

It is at this point you realise you are not the owner of your computer at all: it is not a consumer good, a personal possession, a belonging, a chattel: it is merely the wrong end of a painfully taut ligature that holds you in permanent bondage to its designers and licenciaries, like a dog on a leash.

Thanks to one compulsive act of purchase, when you had done all the research you could bear, comparing this model with that until you just thought, the hell with it, this one’s pretty, and you did not read the small print (because, why? You needed the computer! What difference would it make, if the small print told you the US Government has legal jurisdiction over your thoughts, worldwide copyright on your ideas, and may uplift you to Guantanamo without a reservation? You still had to buy the damn thing!) They can do whatever They like to you. You are Their unpaid minion, a slave. If They want to shut your computer down for ten minutes or (as once happened) an hour and a half in order to send you a lot of patches to remedy Their own programming deficiencies and security loopholes, what matters if you happen to be using it at the time? That’s not Their problem!

Imagine if, having borne home a bag of shopping from the supermarket, the processors of smelly delicious cheeses, the canners of juicy fat beans, the growers of monstrous red Spanish tomatoes, the bottlers of oils and fine wines all turned up on your doorstep demanding you shut off the lights and go to bed early, just as you were getting ready to sit down and eat? Why, I bet you would tell them to fuck right off out of your face.

Are you listening, Microsoft? If you want to send me patches, why don’t you wait and do it while I’m in the bathroom, uh? Better still, why don’t you politely just ASK?

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