Are PCs more than the sum of their components? You’ve probably tentatively tendered to the assembly of your rig, slotted soldered joygivers with freshly dis-charged fingertips, repeated the rigmarole until no innard remains unchanged, and yet – hasn’t your PC always had a definite character? Mine certainly does. Yet, I’ve stripped her down, laid her bare, peered into her cavernous reaches – nothing there but dusty detritus – evidence of her lofty age and my dungeon-like habitation’s hygiene. So, where resideth the ghost in our tacky neon shells?
In his De Anima, Aristotle argued that an object’s soul is defined by its function because purpose is the essence of being. The paederastic* pedagog’s opinion seems worthy of consideration since I think it’s fair to say that we’re each embroiled in an exploitative relationship with our computers – that is, we define them in terms of what they are capable of doing for us. I may love my PC, but I’m still a user. The PC’s soul is shaped by the actions we expect it to perform. If I say my computer has character, this is rendered through my machine’s behaviour in dealing with these expectations. For example, I think the old lass is temperamental because she’s picky about the times when she’ll let me load up Firefox (another story, boring story, never to be told) because she meets my basic expectations – to browse the internet for cats and porn – in an unexpected way. However, if she failed in her function then ‘she’ would become an ‘it’ – devoid of character – a pile of junk.
The other prominent academic in this field is of course that onion guy from Parappa The Rapper – as we all learned in school, his seminal treatise states, “Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind”. This school of thought (supported by minor philosophers such as Foucault) states that there’s neither character nor soul within an object, but instead we project such fanciful notions through our discourse, and in so doing we construct a reality in which the inanimate can be falsely perceived to possess unrealistic traits. When we act as though a tool possesses concious thought, it becomes a social reality, hence David Cameron and the ‘characterful’ PC.
Honestly, and most moronically, I think my primary processing unit changes character whenever I fit it with a new case. This might also be why I rarely recognise a person if they’ve had their hair cut or change their trousers. I like this approach because it’s mine, and in this era of supposed self-determination, clutching on to safe, secure stupidity helps me stay upright until mechanical failure and overbearing debt levels the old lass and makes a widower of me.
*Thanks to Sponge and Stalin for explaining to me the nuances of paederasty.