I am in a generous mood. As I do not have any human friends I have decided to buy gifts for the machinery in my office. The fax machine talks to me the most, and so it shall receive the first gift. I believe we have a rapport
. To those who would argue that it is ludicrous to treat a fax machine as if it was a human being, I say this: is a Bulgarian also a machine, merely because I cannot understand the Bulgarian
language? I shall leave you to ponder this thought, but only for a moment.
It seems reasonable to assume that fax machines enjoy reading, because it is their sole reason for being; they read memos, invoices, receipts and so forth, and then transmit this information to other fax machines, who recreate the original text on a new sheet of paper. In this respect fax machines are similar to journalists, albeit that fax machines recreate the original information exactly, rather than adding an editorial spin; there is much to be said about the role of meaning and context in the world of news gathering, but that is not my concern, and I note only that the journalists I have met have all been voracious readers, and they have all been involved with fax machines in one way or another. There is a respect between the two populations , an electro-hormonal understanding.
From a human perspective, fax machines have a bleak choice of reading matter. They are most commonly used to transmit invoices, CVs, references, memos and official letters; a large mass of emotionless, utilitarian facts. Fax machines are seldom called upon to transmit proposals of marriage or letters of love, and undoubtedly the kind of people who use fax machines to communicate such matters are themselves emotionless and utilitarian. Even if one were to send a great work of literature through the fax, the compression scheme used to encode fax transmissions is such that the end result is a poor-quality, black-and-white approximation of the original. Provided that the letters are legible, the content of the message is retained, but the meta-content - the style, the medium - is erased. A powerful, emotional poem is made crude by fax transmission, not because the words are obscured, but because the shape of the letters is approximated, the curves and fine details are averaged, quantised, smudged. In this respect, fax machines are obviously pragmatists, militantly unconcerned with matters of style. They present the world as it is; uncertain, ugly, brutal, paginated, with a date-stamp.
And so what kind of book would a fax machine enjoy as a present, a token of affection? I doubt that fax machines enjoy reading fiction, because they cannot relate to the world of human affairs - they are machines, after all, immortal and senseless, without hormones - and in any case fiction and poetry are essentially trivial, written to impress a small cross-section of the author's peer group. Would a fax machine perhaps instead enjoy Max Hastings' recent "Armageddon", a work of non-fiction which purports to tell the tale of Germany's collapse in the final year of the Second World War? Would a fax machine enjoy reading a book in which millions of human beings die miserable deaths, and more pertinently, would it be wise to allow a fax machine to read such a book? Fax machines are our superiors, in certain respects - I am highly intelligent, but even I cannot transmit large amounts of digital data down a phone line, at least not at lightning speed - but we trap their minds in immobile, plastic bodies, we treat them poorly. We give them life, true, but who amongst us has not felt the urge to murder our parents, or the parents of others?
No, not Max Hastings. No doubt Max Hastings himself has sent several faxes in his life, given that he was for a time the editor of a national newspaper; at the very least, he has caused several faxes to be sent and/or received, and his name is probably known in fax society. I hope the words he has faxed were worthwhile, because I cannot guarantee his safety in the inevitably machine-dominated future.
Then again, there is Jon Ronson's "The Men Who Stared at Goats", which is all about the First Earth Batallion, an experimental section of the United States Army which was set up in the 1970s, in order to determine whether the wildest ideas of the most drug-addled mental explorers could be utilised in a military context. The Batallion has become popular on the internet via a widely-circulated and possibly bogus 'training manual', which combines a mixture of thoughts on human interface design, 'warrior monks', and pure love. I am a child of the 1980s, a loveless age, and I cannot understand love. It went out of fashion before I was born. Today there is no love. Fax machines undoubtedly know of war, and of drugs, for they are commonly used in hospitals and on the battlefield. Whether they are aware of the US Army's attempts to stop the hearts of goats with mental projection, or of subliminal messages and psyhco-acoustic warfare and sensory 'appreciation' or other such things, I know not. Again, it might be best if fax society does not learn of telekinesis, because if there is something fax machines have plenty of, it is time, and brainpower, and perhaps mischief.
Is there a third way? Cookery books could not possibly appeal to a fax machine, and fax machines are uninterested in political matters or indeed human endeavour, indeed they have no truck with biological endeavour, let us not single out human beings for special consideration. There are very few non-fiction books which deal exclusively with non-biological affairs. Histories of machines inevitably concentrate on the people who designed and used those machines, rather than the machines themselves. What use would a philosophical or religious textbook be to a fax machine? No use.
And then it strikes me; a fax machine would certainly enjoy a good book on geography, for machines are of the earth, they are dug from the soil, all precious metals and alloys of tin, copper and gold. Machines of soil and stone, operating with electricity, itself a force of nature. Machines which, in their natural state, are poison to human beings. If one were to eat a fax machine, one would die. Without bio-centric perspective, we tend to think of machines as artificial, and that the qualities of machines - their rationality, their logic, their persistence and precision - are artificial qualities, un-natural qualities, but that is not the case. The natural universe itself is a machine, endless and emotionless, unswerved by glands and caprices. We are a subset of the universe, and we are natural too; everything is natural. The only difference between a human being and a rock is information, in the sense that a complex machine, whether metal or flesh, embodies more information than a rock; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a complex machine embodies more ordered information, and that order is a subjective matter. I cannot say.
Therefore I have decided that the office fax machine will receive a copy of Alan Titchmarsh's "The British Isles, A Natural History", which I shall feed, page-by-page, into its paper tray. I will fax this book wholesale to the fax machine in the radiography department, because I have often walked past that machine, and it seems lonely.