I, too, know the hot anger of technology rage

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The Independent Online

"When we found out the reason behind this on the internet, we laughed," said one of the office workers temporarily besieged by a Dutch gunman yesterday. And he wasn't alone in smirking, either.

"When we found out the reason behind this on the internet, we laughed," said one of the office workers temporarily besieged by a Dutch gunman yesterday. And he wasn't alone in smirking, either.

Most of the newspaper reports kept a pretty straight face in describing the hostage crisis in Amsterdam – it did end with the man's suicide, after all. But, like that office worker, they couldn't entirely suppress an air of amusement at what had brought the unfortunate man to this pass.

It wasn't bankruptcy or heartbreak, apparently, but discontent with his widescreen television. I didn't laugh, though. Having just passed through a week of technology-induced depression, all I could think was that it's little short of a miracle this sort of thing doesn't happen every day.

The general assumption seemed to be that the psychosis existed first and the disappointing widescreen television simply provided a seed around which it could crystallise. And perhaps this was the case. Maybe the poor man had been deranged enough to take the commercial promises of Philips too literally.

He'd looked at the website and seen the intriguing illustration of a well-to-do couple sitting on a sofa while a herd of wild mustangs thundered past, inches from their toes. That looks fantastic, he thought, and then his eyes shifted to a synthetic affidavit: "Philips Widescreen TVs put me right in the heart of the picture."

Who wouldn't want such a miraculous instrument? Then, after shelling out the necessary euros, he got the box back home and discovered it was just a telly. No wild horses, no total immersion – just another telly. Disappointment curdles into revenge fantasy.

Maybe that's how it happened. But I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility that it was the widescreen telly that drove him mad in the first place – particularly if all that technological foreplay was followed by no climax.

I've been wanting to kill my computer for the past five days – since an attempt to attach a digital camera cast it into a state of twitching shell-shock. I've been wanting to kill the digital camera too, for that matter – since it appeared to induce this nervous crisis in an otherwise stable machine. And I sense that the barely controllable desire to hit both objects with a mallet could quite easily snap outwards.

In fact, just like this unfortunate man – who believed he was besieging the corporate headquarters of Philips – I've actually tried to visit my impotent rage on those I hold responsible – only to find myself trapped in the cruellest of all modern oxymorons, the telephone help-line. What followed was an excruciating game of pass-the-buck, since the hardware supplier knows full well that you have no way of proving that the fault doesn't lie in the software and ditto everyone else involved.

The fury this induces has a peculiarly modern texture that would have been quite unfamiliar to our predecessors. No doubt our forefathers occasionally cursed the suppliers of defective spades or shoddily made fountain pens. But they would at least have known what had gone wrong and whether it was mendable. Not so the contemporary consumer – who is utterly dependent on the opaque, magical efficacy of machines.

And it doesn't help that the more advanced the technology the greater the mendacity about its magical ease of use, a rhetoric of anxiety-free performance that only makes your plunge into despair more vertiginous.

It's a bit like skating – wonderfully exhilarating until the ice breaks and you realise, with mounting panic, that you have no idea how to find the hole again, let alone how to haul yourself out if you do. So far, I've managed to cling on to my sanity – but if I go down shooting don't laugh when they explain that it was a camera that did it.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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