Otago Daily Times

Grudg­ing trib­ute given at the church of tech­nol­ogy

- Joe Ben­nett is a Lyt­tel­ton writer.

IT'S not a shop. It's a gallery. The goods for sale are ex­hibits — phones, tablets, lap­tops — lit to stress their ex­cel­lence, and tethered against theft.

It's both clin­i­cal and min­i­mal. It's a chapel to high tech­nol­ogy, a place of elec­tronic rev­er­ence.

Lin­ing the walls above the smooth and lus­trous gad­gets are larger screens, in con­stant move­ment, un­furl­ing colours purer than you'll find in nature. These are images from lala­land, from techno­heaven where ev­ery­thing is shin­ing and the in­ter­net loves you back.

There are no tills or shelves or check­outs. Only is­lands of pol­ished wood, spare and square, like lit­tle al­tars. The clergy are young, boys and girls in their early 20s, and from a rain­bow of eth­nic­i­ties: In­dian, Chi­nese, Korean, Filipino. They've never known a world with­out Wi­Fi, would find it hard to imag­ine or to sur­vive in.

Yes­ter­day there had been some­thing on the path out­side my garage. With­out my glasses on I could not make out what. I bent to ex­am­ine it and just as it came into fo­cus as a bit of blown veg­e­ta­tion, the phone fell from my shirt pocket and landed face down with a crack. The glass was shat­tered, shards pok­ing from it. I pressed the lit­tle but­ton on the side and the screen came gamely to life, but the beast was clearly done for, its short ex­is­tence over.

I was early at the shop, de­ter­mined to be in and out of the mall be­fore it be­came an Hierony­mus Bosch. Oth­ers had had the same idea. All but one of the al­tars was al­ready oc­cu­pied by a priest of elec­tron­ics and a mem­ber of the laity.

My own priest was of In­dian ori­gin, her left hand a spi­der­work of henna tat­toos and her fin­ger­nails thrush­egg blue. I handed her the ru­ined phone.

‘‘Gee,’’ she said, ‘‘that's an old one.’’

I'd bought it new, per­haps four years be­fore.

I ex­plained that my needs were sim­ple, that I used my phone only to text and call, and if nec­es­sary for the Covid trac­ing sys­tem, and she recog­nised my type im­me­di­ately and led me to their sim­plest model. It looked to me like all the oth­ers but it cost a mere $120.

‘‘Per­fect,’’ I said. ‘‘Now if you'd just be kind enough to trans­fer all my con­tacts on to the new phone, then I'll be off and away for four more years dur­ing which brief time this phone will be­come an an­tique and I . . .’’ but there was a prob­lem, some­thing to do with sim cards and mem­ory that I paid no at­ten­tion to be­cause I knew I would not un­der­stand.

She said she'd have to use a dif­fer­ent method to trans­fer my con­tacts and it would take a while, and then she plunged into the mys­ter­ies of her craft and I had noth­ing to do. I toured the gad­get dis­plays but found no in­ter­est there, so I just watched the cus­tomers.

They were all my age or there­abouts. Pre­sum­ably the young were still in bed or shop­ping on­line. Or both.

Two women came in to­gether, arm in arm, one of them limp­ing on a de­formed an­kle. Both seemed daunted by the bright­lit hi­tech­ery, but the Filipino as­sis­tant won them over with a wide smile and found stools for them and though I could not hear what was said, they formed a happy lit­tle group.

But on the far side of the store a man aged 60­some­thing in a red check shirt was fully au­di­ble and far from happy.

He had tried to per­form some rou­tine oper­a­tion on his phone, some­thing he'd done a dozen times him­self, he said, but now it seemed it couldn't be done. The as­sis­tant tried to ex­plain but the man was deaf to ex­pla­na­tion and he shouted some more and then, his anger feed­ing on it­self, de­manded TO SEE THE MAN­AGER.

The man­ager was 30­some­thing, plump and In­dian and qui­etly spo­ken but un­able to ap­pease the an­gry man, who bel­lowed his griev­ance once again then slapped the counter with the flat of his hand and stormed out of the shop. Had there been a door he would have slammed it.

King Lear is the great­est of Shake­speare's plays. At its heart is an old man who senses power slip­ping to the next gen­er­a­tion and he rages at his own grow­ing im­po­tence.

‘‘Your phone is ready, sir,’’ said the smil­ing In­dian girl, and I thanked her and left with the de­vice that’s fun­da­men­tal to the mod­ern world and that I can barely use.

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