Go with a smile!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Infinite Loop

Had a very strange encounter. I was leaving the library, having just borrowed a book. Seems like a usual way for sieteocho to spend his weekend. Then the alarm sounded when I walked through the gantry. I looked at my receipt for the # or the @ next to the book title that indicated that the RFID hadn’t been deactivated. But there was none. I handed the book to the librarian who checked it and found that it was all right. She then asked me if I had another book.

I had a book that I bought from the library sale in my haversack, so I handed it to her. She was taking a long time in deactivating the book, and after that I realised that she had been trying and failing to look it up in the system. Obviously it’s not there anymore. I called out to her, and she didn’t respond or look up. She even tried to log on to her colleague’s computer to retrieve the record. Eventually I had to shout at her, and she looked around.

I told her that it’s a library book sale book, which is why she couldn’t find it in the system. Then I asked her how come she didn’t respond to me. She said, “I heard you. I thought you were talking on the phone.” I said, I couldn’t have been saying “hello” 5 times to somebody on a phone, could I? I couldn’t have been using a phone in a library, could I? This had to be the first time I raised my voice in a library and the nearest librarian didn’t tell me to shut up. All you had to do was to turn your head. She said, “you should have called ‘hello miss’ or something like that”. I said, “and that means that I’m not on the phone?”

Then I asked her, “why did you try to look up that book in the system even though you failed over and over again?” She said, “I was just doing my job”. I was about to spit out, “using your brains is your job too isn’t it?” when I realised that she was totally cross with me, just as I was totally irritated at her for being an idiot. I was so totally put off by her stupid explanations that I didn’t realise that she had entered into siege mentality. You try to help somebody but not only does she not want to be helped, but she gets locked into this “everybody’s against me” mode. What could I do? I just took my book and walked out.

The point of this post is not about what an idiot she was. (Well actually it is). But it’s more about how people get trapped into unproductive modes of behaviour, trying something over and over again, and failing. Like one of those old floppy disks that try and fail over and over again to read a damaged disk. It’s one of those modes of behaviour that are like train wrecks, that are so horrid and fascinating at the same time you just have to keep watching. Let’s just look at the infinite loops that have taken place.

1. Librarian scans the book over and over again, looking for a record which isn’t there. All the while she thinks there is something wrong with the computer system.
2. Librarian hears somebody calling out “hello, hello” and keeps on telling herself that nobody’s calling her.
3. Sieteocho tries to explain to the librarian what’s gone wrong but librarian keeps on being defensive, as though he were nitpicking instead of trying to find out what went wrong.

Well that was incredibly thick behaviour. Maybe she’s not dumb but the behaviour certainly was. I’m a Singaporean so I know as well as anybody that our educational system produces mindless robots. And because I see mindless robots all the time I just get very pissed off about it. I also get pissed off by the fact that mindless robots run our little red dot.

First there is a failure of imagination. Failure of imagination to realise that a.) maybe there is a good reason why the book is not in your database even though it looks and feels like a library book. b.) maybe the guy behind is calling you for a reason that has something to do with a.) and c.) maybe the guy is not trying to censure you, maybe you aren’t having an argument but a post mortem.

There is something really autistic in all this, and I treat this as a cautionary tale, because I know that sometimes I get into my infinite loops every once in a while. And they are extremely destructive, because everybody knows that infinite loops – those that are not designed to be as such, that is – are extremely destructive, because everybody knows that infinite loops – those that are not designed to be as such, that is – are extremely destructive, because everybody knows that infinite loops – those that are not designed to be as such, that is – are extremely destructive, because they just waste a lot of your time and energy for nothing.

It goes down to this – the topical catch phrase at the moment – madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. I was thinking to myself as I left the library, what I just saw bordered on madness. Well it takes a person who's on top of things to recognise that as madness, and you shouldn't be too hasty to criticise people who do things on the spur of the moment. But all the same, something mad about that. Except – how do we call and exit loop or a break? I suppose that takes training and alertness.



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