Monthly Archives: October 2023

The relentless pursuit of upgrade

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice there is.” Jan van de Snepscheut

Now there’s a quote – and an axiom – I like. Simple, elegant, clear. Since, as we all know, the abstract rarely matches reality and New and Improved hardly ever is. (Of course by the same token in the abstract I should be doing something productive right now, not complaining about how life doesn’t live up to its billing.)

(Camptown Races) Doo-da, doo-da ..

Take that doo-dad you got the other day where the pictogram assures you only the most minor of assembly is required. Any idiot could do it. Just snap the plastic bit into the slit and the device (e.g., the tower fan I bought a while back) will be done – and Bob’s your uncle.  Or, these days, possibly your aunt.

In actual fact you end up cutting your finger on the corner of said plastic bit, getting blood all over everything, and some tiny sliver chips off. So, the fan that was supposed to, er, tower, tilts ever so slightly to the left. Nobody, you assure yourself, will notice this. Actually, every single person who walks into the room asks you why your fan is crooked.

Then there’s life itself. At 2 a.m. as you brood, darkly, about All There Is To do, it seems like simplicity itself to get organized: just make a few calls, send a couple of emails, clear the deck. Desk.

In reality it’s a long afternoon of frustration. The person you need to contact is away or she’s ignoring you because your business really isn’t all that important to them (the automated message lies). Or, for some perverse reason, even if you do connect she can’t or won’t help; it’s above her pay grade. Why don’t you download the app? (You’d think you were applying to MI6, not trying to update some stupid loyalty card.)

In the abstract the remote-controlled blinds would, well, work with the remote. The show you’re streaming wouldn’t freeze in mid-sentence. The audio on your stupid smart TV wouldn’t die each time you switched between Prime and the sci-fi channel and the snazzy cable upgrade that was supposed to translate into greater speed and much enchantment wouldn’t fade to black and require a reboot every five minutes.

But we’re all convinced that newer is better in our relentless pursuit of the upgrade: personal, technological, professional.

In the medical sphere the consequences can be more dire since, in the immortal words of Monty Python, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Oops, I mean the side effects. When they tell you this or that surgery, cataracts, say, are 90% effective you never think you could be one of the unlucky ones. When they assure you those preventive measures you should absolutely take (mammograms, PSA tests, colonoscopies, a daily statin) are low risk you never realized “risk: means something entirely different to the people not doing those tests or taking the drugs. For them, “low” is defined in abstract, statistical terms borrowed from insurance.. Better with cargo ships than people.

“Know myself? If I knew myself I’d run away.” Goethe

The world, in other words, tells us one thing about itself when really it’s nothing of the sort.

In Socratic terms if it tried to know itself it would think of itself as a peacock with a wing span revealing a bright fan of gorgeous colours when in fact it’s a fat, ugly pigeon. Nothing wrong with pigeons mind you. I rather like them; I’ll share my lunch with a pigeon if one if it happens to cross my path when I dine al fresco (OK, as I grab a sandwich as I race from one place to another). But peacocks they ain’t. On the other hand, peacocks are mean, a bit like Canada geese, and to be honest I’m a little scared of them.

So perhaps, to retain our sanity, we should all be giving the abstract – like the geese – a wide berth. Take the win where we can. Be happy when we open a bottle of wine without the cork breaking. When we do put together some device without chipping off some spare bit. Do a happy dance when we do get through to a person who is friendly and helpful. And try to recall those times more often versus simply brooding on the bad. (“Oh yeah?” retort the Absinthe Drinkers.)


“Confidence and hope,” said Galen, does “more good than physic.” Not quite sure what “physic” means but I suspect it has something to do with poking and prodding. Which only ends up pushing the cork even farther into the wine.

And nobody likes corked wine.

(Oh go on. Click on the doo-da link.)