We need a word for this awkward tech blunder. Here are your brilliant suggestionsMarch 14, 2023
At work I tried to relay a news snippet from my personal email, getting nowhere. I tried again, my phone as conduit. Somehow the message fell into limbo. Time was running short. I needed the yarn about petrol-sniffing ants for that night’s radio show. Smart alecs will suggest that I find the story online, yet every term I googled – ant, car, petrol – spelled more dead-ends.
Hence the scurry. The panic. Showtime loomed, the article crucial to the evening’s menu, yet those bloody ants sat idle in a home document. The system was broken. My phone. A firewall, maybe. The spam filter was empty. I called for tech assistance.
It wasn’t working, I swear!Credit:Istock
His real name is Ben, the show’s producer. Being 25, Ben has the i-Gen gift to decipher whatever glitch may thwart a digital migrant. Yet as soon as he moved from his cubicle, I saw the problem. Somehow my phone’s default address for the ABC omitted its au-ending. In two taps, the suffix fix was fixed.
Be it your car, your PC, your phone, your dishwasher, you know the scenario. It’s part of the human experience. Your apparatus is kaput. Baffled, you hail a guru, only for the fault to vanish. An expensive miracle, often, as gurus rightly charge for their services, despite the gadget behaving when they arrive.
We need a word for this, I tweeted – that knot that self-unravels the minute you get help. Brilliant suggestions poured in. High on the list was undetechtable – concocted by cookery queen and radio colleague, Alice Zaslavsky. Close behind were disapperror, evaporosis and probleft.
Karl Quinn, a culture writer at this masthead, devised e-phemera, while neologist Terry Legg fancied POODATA – Problem Occurs Only During Absence of Technical Assistance. The acronym clicks with similar ideas, ranging from Schrodinger’s Engineering to vanical (a vanishing mechanical problem) to resolution by proximity.
“In software development,” explained one tweep, “we call this The Big Cardboard Ear. The moment you explain an unresolvable issue to anything/anyone – receptionist, waste bin, stray cat – the solution appears.” Crossword lovers, solving with friends, know all about the Big Cardboard Ear, a vocalised clue abruptly making sense.
Lexicographer Susie Dent, the umpire on UK’s Countdown, saved the day with a German word. “Vorführeffekt,” she shared, “or “demonstration effect” is the way your broken washing machine magically starts working when the technician appears, or your child’s hacking cough vanishes the moment you visit the doctor’s.”
Trust the Germans, and thank you Susie. Thanks also to Gaye Murray, a Scot who told us in telegraphese how her “late mother knocked over a vase of daffies atop the TV. Stopped working. TV engineer arrived. Switched on & lo all good. Oh no said she, wait, I’ll show you…poured vase No 2 (tulips) down back of TV…”
Meanwhile a Dutch teacher, Angelo Wentzler, presented a parallel syndrome. “Whenever you demonstrate something physical before a class, it will somehow fail. I call this the demonstruction.”
Cartoon fans may recognise this “failment” (a failed appointment) as the Michigan J Frog Effect. Dressed in top hat, the frog debuted in One Froggy Evening, in 1955, an all-singing, all-dancing amphibian. For its owner at least. Yet the minute the owner tries pimping his pet to talent agents, the frog squats, ribbits, hops, and does what frogs do.
By fluke, Michigan is also where those fuel-mad ants shut down a Mazda plant. Yes, eventually, I found the article. Except the ants were yellow-sac spiders, not ants, which is why my Google searches had failed, due to human error. My error. Maybe I should call an expert.
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