Chipping Away at Happiness

PineNeedles 001

I was buying a cup of coffee for a friend of mine the other day, and inserted my card into the chip reader. “Oh, I hate those chips,” said my friend, “I don’t know why they can’t just stick with the swipe.” Then he muttered away for a bit about stupid chips.

Seriously? I thought. You hate the chip? You actually have a strong aversion to this little bit of technology?

Now I should say right up front that I like chip and pin cards. Because I travel to Europe fairly frequently, having to swipe my US card and wait for it to be processed was always slightly embarrassing, to tell the truth. And the failure rate with swipe cards is phenomenal.

Not so for my friend. “I only have one chip card, and I’m always having trouble with it.”

Well, admittedly for a while my chip card didn’t work in the little shop downstairs, but they got a newer reader and it works fine now. But as we sat down to drink our coffees, I wasn’t thinking about how well the technology did or didn’t work. I was thinking about having an emotional response to technology.

And we all do. The car won’t start and we swear at it. The lightbulb burns out, and it’s such a bloody nuisance. And don’t get me started about traffic.

Now, the funny thing is, all of these things, the cash cards, the lights, the cars, they all make our lives easier. It’s like they are faithful servants who have no other goal in life than to help us out. They hold our money, they light our darkness, they carry us from place to place. And as soon as they fail, we blow our top.

I mean, seriously?

We act like a dick to a machine? (Which begs the question whether you can actually be a dick to a machine.)

My father would go nuts if things didn’t work. Actually, my father complained about a lot of things. Unfortunately, he often complained to my mother if little things went wrong in the house. Often things she couldn’t do anything about. Which, when you think about it, is being a dick, for sure.

He complained about other drivers. He complained about the government. He complained about gas prices. He complained about junk mail.

To be fair, he also had a great sense of humor and enthused about things too. But he complained a lot. He certainly did not suffer fools gladly. No, he really complained about people who couldn’t do their jobs up to his standard. Including his kids.

In my experience, it is best to suffer fools gladly, because you won’t ever avoid fools, and the alternative to suffering them gladly is to be a dick. And if the fool you are suffering from happens to be your debit card, you end up being even more of a dick.

Because it is so pointless to get angry at a machine. In fact, I will go so far as to say there is a real point to NOT getting upset by machines.

As we sipped our coffee I pointed out to my friend, that getting upset over a credit card is an exercise in anger. And remember what I have said about anger: it is a burning coal you hold to throw at something else. It only harms you. In this case, by making an unnecessary black spot in your day. A moment’s passing irritation for no reason at all. First you are annoyed by your credit card. They you are pissed off because you can’t get reception on your phone. Then when you get your phone to work, the website you are looking at crashes.

By now you are fuming. And why? Talk about first-world problems! But, no, come to think about it, let’s not just push these things aside as first-world problems. This irritation can happen at any level of technology.  I’m sure cavemen bitched because their spear point broke. We do expect our things to work. But getting upset with them isn’t going to make them work better! All it is going to do is ruin a little bit of your life. A moment you could have spent being content is sent down the tubes, because you wanted it to be different.

The sun is still shining (Or not, if you live in Seattle) The coffee (Which I paid for, remember) is still hot. You are with your friendly neighborhood Art Minister discussing…. Wait a minute, are we still talking about that sodding CHIP PIN?

There are two things worth considering now. One is why these things make us angry, and the other is why this is bad for us all.

We get angry at technology, because we expect it to work. It’s the expectation that is the problem here. As long as our expectations are met, we’re happy. But if this damned chip doesn’t work when we want it to, we condemn the whole IDEA of chip cards.

Personally, I think it’s a miracle whenever modern technology works. I can buy a pair of trousers with my phone, for goodness sakes! I never expect that kind of stuff to work, but it does! How cool is that? But we do, so often, expect the world to work out for us. Why? What makes you think that you are so special? Remember how that kind of thinking leads to acting like a dick? Isn’t the expectation of having things go your way what leads to dickishness? The sense that is your right to have a working credit card?

No one has a right to expect technology to work. It should work, but you don’t have a right to it. It isn’t a matter of rights. And if your chip doesn’t work, it isn’t some Higher Power or the Technology Gods picking on you. It isn’t personal; it’s a blinking machine. But too often, like my friend who is “against” chip cards, we do take it personally.

And this idea that random events are somehow the Universe acting against us builds into a defensive, negative outlook. A worldview that looks for bad things to happen. Which means we lose opportunities to be happy.  And here is the kicker: You end up being a dick to yourself. You ruin your chances to have fun. You blight the beauty of a sunny day. (Never do that in Seattle.) And more than this, you are all set up, primed, in fact, to be a dick to someone else.

And it all comes down to expectations. In Zen they say, “There is no such thing as a good day or a bad day, if the ideas of good and bad do not exist.” And what makes a day good or bad? The desire for it to turn out a certain way, that we decide. Well, you know what? The universe ain’t listening. The day is going to do its thing and so is the chip reader. And whether you like it or not… is up to you!  You get to like the coffee, even if the chip reader doesn’t work! When your car breaks down, you get to take the bus, or walk, or ask a friend for a lift. You might even choose stay where you are! The decision to be upset is yours.

We get to choose to be angry, or selfish, or disappointed or not. And being angry, being selfish, being disappointed – these states of mind lead so often to acting like a dick. And that impacts on everyone around you. Making them angry, or upset, or disappointed.

So, wake up and smell the coffee. Don’t be a dick. Enjoy the coffee and forget about the stupid chip.

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