The good, the bad and the choleric

2009-01-29 00:00

Salesmen know, but would rarely confess, that all computers fall into four basic personality types.

Our first computer, a Pentium 3, was a classic phlegmatic. We could hear it putting its feet up as we arrived home each day. I would press the power button to boot up, while I made supper. As the sauce simmered, the desktop would display and as soon as the rice was boiled, Microsoft Mail would come up. Even so, we wouldn’t attempt an e-mail until after dessert. But on the odd occasion when I was willing to ruin the friendship and offend feelings for the sake of a timeous e-mail, I was greeted with spinning circles and frozen screens. This Pentium rushed for no man.

It was kind, consistent and calm, but never quick.

A few years later, when an old Mecer laptop was donated to us, we were ecstatic. Dressed in black, with silver studs tastefully piercing various body parts, this was a genuine melancholic. And it would be good to work with a perfectionist for a change. A computer that was particular, that paid attention to detail, that only did a job if it could do it well. A computer that was creative, thoughtful and deep.

But, as the months passed, although we didn’t like to admit it, that thin, black box in the corner became a burden to us. It weighed heavy on our laps. It refused to play even the most basic computer games. It churned out theology assignments, it filled up its inbox with deep e-mails, but just one game of “Shoot the Dinosaur Mid-air”? No way.

And boy, had it become a stickler for detail. If you didn’t press the keys just right, it ignored you. If you accidentally closed it down incorrectly, it took hours to reboot, claiming that your errors, your inability to be precise and your frivolity were to blame for its slow recovery.

And so one day, when the burden became too much to bear, my husband came home with an Apple iBook. Bright white, with flashing lights, this sassy little number winked its way through life. It chatted you up in a sweet voice: “Excuse me, Skype needs your attention, you are now running on reserve battery power, it’s 8 o’clock.”

And anyone who turned in its direction was greeted with a brilliant smile.

I was dubious. Was this sanguine going to get any work done around here? But my husband was delighted: finally a light-hearted, fun-loving and entertaining machine. So while iTunes played the jazz-funk and iPhoto added colour to our shots and iMovie rolled out the comedies, my husband tried to figure out GarageBand.

And for three years, life was light.

But then, the unthinkable happened. We didn’t see it coming and indeed couldn’t have, Our computer changed personality. It was subtle at first. A deep, serious man’s voice began to announce the time, on the hour, every hour. Then the DVD player began rejecting select DVDs. Bob the Builder went first. Then Noddy. Then Shrek 3, Finding Nemo and Surf’s Up. It spat out anything that smacked of gaiety: “The DVD player encountered an error [that] it could not recover from,” it lied.

I think we both knew what was happening. Our sanguine had had enough of frivolity, she wanted to be taken seriously. And so she was calling the shots — jazz-funk was out and the blues were in. And she alone had the power to accept or eject CDs. A power she exercised thoughtfully, carefully and melancholically.

For a few months now my husband has been murmuring about a new computer.

He pops into computer outlets for earnest discussions about gigabytes. He pages through PC magazines, checking the options on laptops. He pores over the Apple website comparing 13-inch with 15-inch screens. But, is he asking the right questions? And, is he getting the right answers?

You see, what I have realised is that it’s all about compatibility. I don’t mean for our projector. Or for our camera. I mean for us. I couldn’t bear to have another melancholic lounging around my study. Or another phlegmatic kicking his feet up while the rest of us wait patiently.

No, my heart is set on a choleric. We’ve had a long go-slow and we’ve had lots of fun. Now we need to get some work done around here.

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