I sometimes wonder exactly what happens when I perform a single mouse click. The camera in my optical mouse snaps 1,000 frames-a-second of my desk surface, the integrated circuit algorithm translates the difference between each frame into ones and zeros, specifying the mouse’s position and detecting the click on the injection-moulded button, triggered by pressure from my DNA-moulded finger. The blue-tooth wireless communication protocol transmits that information to the USB receiver, and heaven knows how many processes and protocols are involved inside my computer, the pixel rendering in the graphics card and the execution of the code inside my browser to perform the action – in this case, a ‘one-click’ online purchase.
A binary burst zips from chip to chip, back out into the air and into my wireless modem, down the copper wire of my phone line, and on its way via an incalculable number of routers, switches and servers. At every stage, the electronic Morse-code triggers the creation of system administration log files, registers bandwidth usage onto ISP accounts and careers on its way to the Web server upon which the page I clicked is hosted. Then the fun starts! My click executes the server-side script to send off my encrypted credit card details to a payment gateway, which in turn talks to my bank and the merchant bank’s computers. A whole bunch more logs are created, accounts topped up and depleted, receipts and confirmation emails ‘automagically’ written and triggered, orders confirmed, processed and goods dispatched.
My digital life exists on the sea spray atop the crests of waves, surfing an unfathomable ocean of highly evolved science and technology I never see and barely comprehend. Yet I expect it all to work perfectly. If that click doesn’t do what it is supposed to, I react like a two-year-old who has let go of my helium balloon and watched helplessly as it ascends to the heavens.
Technology is phenomenally awesome, but it is a rather tenuous proposition. As it matures, I need to mature as well and begin to comprehend both the complexity – and the limitations. When my Website has a glitch, when an email doesn’t get through, when I can’t log on somewhere, when a file won’t open… before I begin pouting and stomping my feet, I need to count to a trillion, chill out and find forgiveness in my heart for all the poor tech-heads who run all this stuff.
From the Web developer to the hosting provider, ISP, computer technician and who knows who else is roped into the supply chain (the submarine cable maintenance crew?), everyone is under pressure to keep this thing switched on and humming. They are also expected to improve it exponentially every two to three weeks. Faster! Easier! More colour! More movement! More bells! Louder whistles! This month I pause and reflect on how fortunate I am to live in these times. I marvel at the sheer magnificence of the ‘click’ and cut anyone involved in delivering that click a truckload of slack. :-)