Home > Life in Japan > Features
  print button email button

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

It's just me against the machine


I have news for those who fear the machines will one day rise against us.

They have already risen.

Maybe not in the Skynet sense. We don't have cyborg Schwarzeneggers stalking city streets. For why would the machines want to kills us? They already own our souls.

Cell phones, iPods, laptops and their like lead us around like slaves on cyber-chains. And these are just the little machines.

Have your car break down and see how far you get. Or watch what happens when a Tokyo train line — any train line — stops cold for an hour. Speaking of cold, ever have your heater go out? In winter? Yes, we are at the mercy of our machines.

And they are in cahoots too. Like this . . .

I buy an iPod for my son. But it will only work with the latest version of iTunes. Which will not download on his computer. So he has to upgrade his OS. And to do that he has to buy more memory. One purchase dominoe-ing to another.

And the machines chuckle at this. Silly humans! Dance to our demands!

Yet in this struggle, I am almost a machine-free Neanderthal. My fridge is my only machine friend. My iMac I tolerate. The rest I could almost do without.

But I have a nemesis. An archenemy. A demon bane. A machine that exists mostly for my mortification.

My eternal adversary . . . the ticket machine at the train station. Cursed beast of darkness.

The ticket machine and I have been locked in battle for 30 years. During which time neither of us has changed so much. I have a little less hair. It has a new touch screen.

But the war is always on. I need a ticket to ride the train. And it won't let me have one.

Yes, I could skirt the problem by purchasing an IC card, like Suica or Pasmo. Yet that would be like admitting defeat.

Besides, such electro-tickets are but another facet of machine control. If we are not careful, we will all become e-humans. With e-brains and e-souls instead of the genuine prescribed articles. And thus when we expire, we will all go to e-hell.

So keep your IC cards. And commuter tickets. It's just me against the machine. Mano a machino.

I know all its tricks.

First, I know it will run like clockwork when I have lots of time. It's when I'm rushing that it will play its evil games.

Like the Spinning Coin Game — with my ¥10 coin dancing in the ticket slot for five, 10, 15 seconds. When I have no seconds to spare.

Or the Reject-the-Coin Ploy. Nothing wrong with my coin at all. The machine will just refuse it. Again and again. And then giggle.

Or the very similar Reject-the-Bill Gambit. I smooth the bill a billion times. I try it frontwards, backwards, sideways. Each time the machine holds it for interminable seconds. Then spits it back out. Then smiles.

Or the I'm-on-Break-Now Routine. I fall in behind a long line of ticket-buyers and just when it becomes my turn, the machine blips out. A message states it's temporarily out of use. Later, when I am tardy at work, I will plead with my supervisor and say, "I was NOT late! I was temporarily out of use!"

Or the I've-Got-All-Day Approach. I slip in my money, press the button and the machine . . . does nothing. Oh it hums a bit, it purrs. But no ticket comes out. I glance to the clock and realize my train is pulling in — now. But still no ticket.

"C'mon! C'mon! . . . C'MON!" Other commuters give me the bug-eyed gaijin look, certain I am insane. Still no ticket.

It is only after a delay of half a minute that the ticket spits out. Too late. By the time I fly down the stairs, my train has spit out as well.

How does one deal with such a merciless opponent? The key is to let the machine know who's boss. Start by addressing it properly.

"You greasy pile of scrap!"

This gets the machine's attention. As does the accompanying gesture. Yet, you can't let up.

"Hey, I'm talking to you, wingnut!" That's when you slap it.

An added plus to this approach is that other commuters will give you some distance. The train staff will scope you out as well.

And under this spotlight, the machine will blush. And then work. Just like it's supposed to.

Try it if you don't believe me.

A friend tells me this is BS.

"It works because you slow down. The reason something gums up at other moments is because you're rushed. You end up being hasty. Leave your home one minute sooner. Take a deep breath and you will have no trouble."

But he is only saying what his cell phone, iPod and laptop want him to say. He is at their beck and call and does not know what I know.

Which is . . .

The machines have risen.

And you have to put them in their place.



Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.