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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