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Eye Strain and the Misery Threshold
Added: June 11 2002

My monitor blew up Sunday night.

Okay, "blew up" is probably a little strong. Two years ago, it let out a puff of smoke before dying - I would say that was closer to blowing up than this was.

Sunday night, while in the middle of a nice IM conversation, my monitor just blinked off. Blip. The little green light claimed the monitor was still on, but, alas, there was no picture. I prayed that it was just one of those instances where Windows freezes and the monitor goes into sleep mode. Nope. Monitor was kaput.

So, as I'm typing this, I'm squinting in front of a 15" monitor that was manufactured sometime before 1993 and has a maximum resolution of 640x480. And it's giving me a massive headache. I somehow lived with this crappy monitor for three years of college, but, for the life of me, I can't figure out how. (I will now happily blame my somewhat questionable grades on the hours spent staring at this thing writing papers. Yes, this is why those papers sucked. It had nothing to do with trying to write them in one night.)

Seriously, this monitor's picture isn't even remotely rectangular. And it has all of two adjustment knobs: make the screen darker and... make the screen darker.

"So what?" you're thinking. "Monitors are cheap now." "And your computer is so friggin' old that you couldn't buy a flat-panel for it, anyway."

You're absolutely right. And amazingly intuitive about my computer.

The problem here is that this is now the x-teenth item to break on me in the last two weeks. My VCR decided to start scarring tapes when it rewinds. My Discman ejected one of those little metal balls that holds CD's down. One bounce, and the disc lifts off the laser. Fine if you're at home, crappy if you're on the road. Oh, and the battery in my watch died Monday afternoon, exactly fifteen hours after my monitor went kaput. (And I can tell you that, since it's now keeping perfect time of the exact moment said battery went dead.)

No, this isn't a musing about money. Though I certainly could have quite a lot to complain about. (My wallet is already screaming at me from its vast emptiness.)

It's more that I'm just amazed that this whole episode hasn't bothered me as much as I thought it would. It really surprises me.

Then again, my parents unexpectedly orchestrated me acquiring a newer car a couple of weeks ago, so it's hard to complain about a few minor (in comparison) things breaking. (Even if, sadly, said car has one of the worst car stereos I've ever heard. How could anyone manufacture something that sounds so absolutely horrible?!? And how did the previous owner live with it?!? It's the car stereo equivalent of the POS monitor I'm staring at.)

I think it really has to do with one's personal threshold for misery. Remove the car, and this is a relative disaster. I think I'd be a mess, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I've got functional replacements for most of them, but how long are those going to last? (And, sadly, the first item on the list of non-essential purchases was previously replacing that car stereo. I mean, seriously, how does someone make a stereo that sounds so fucking horrible?!? Do I need the ear strain and the eye strain?!?)

Maybe I'm not as bothered by it because of how relatively unimportant this is. If the worst thing going on in my life is a broken monitor, I'm doing pretty well. I'm not sick, and I haven't blown out my knee (yet).

I think as your threshold of "normal" gets kicked up, it's easier to let minor things bother you. A friend of mine travelled to El Salvador and was totally appalled by the host of people living in mud-laden squalor. But she was stunned by their seeming acceptance of it all. They'd never lived any other way, so what to her was a nightmare was to them "normal". How many times have you heard someone mutter, "Damn, I'd kill myself if I had to live like that"? Yet they don't.

Then, think back to the stockbrokers who leaped out of high-rises back in the crash of 1987. Clearly, their threshold of "normal" was much higher, even than the average person's. The higher the threshold, the worse zero looks. The miserable rich kids at my high school demonstrated that pretty clearly.

Truthfully, the last time I had an episode of stuff breaking (yes, unbelieveably, this isn't the first time), it actually ended up turning out well. I bought a few things I wasn't previously planning on buying right away, and the eventual reward was far greater than what I lost. So maybe it's given me some perspective - bad things can sometimes be good.

But there's still that nagging voice in my head that's saying, "What next?"

Actually, you know what - I don't want to know. If I actually ask that question, this computer will mysteriously blink off. And, good lord, that would be a serious tragedy. As much as I can complain about this POS monitor, at least it allows me to get some work done. You know, to make money for food and all that.

Speaking of tragedies, that car stereo. (I mean, seriously...?!?)

Addendum, 6:00pm:

Okay, yeah, I was dumb enough to ask "What next?". And today, I got the answer.

I walked outside and noticed that the left rear tire of my car was flat.

Should I ask the question again, just to see what happens?

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