Whacked By Technology


Wes Stephenson

I’ve heard the warnings of the moral traps that can be found in modern technology, whether it be internet addictions or unbridled appetites for the latest gadget or high-priced toy. While many of these traps hold no allure for me, there is one technological development or our age that represents a great danger to my soul. I am convinced that the devils of Hell conspired with R&D engineers to produce a certain device that, single-handedly, works its ends to keep me out of the Kingdom of Heaven. The demon I battle has many names, for he is Legion: The Weed Whacker, The Lawn Trimmer, The String Trimmer, and, most commonly, The “blanket-blank hunk of blanket-blank!”

The packaging teases with the deception that lawn trimming has never been easier and that the nylon line advances automatically with the gentle tap of the rotary head upon the ground.

Yeah, RIGHT! I have owned four trimmers in my life – two electric models and two gas-powered units. I am ashamed to say that my first three machines did not die of natural causes. The prescribed “gentle tap” never works for more than two or three advances; after that, I cannot coax the line from its den even by swinging the trimmer like a baseball bat against a tree trunk! Gophers have moved out of my neighborhood, complaining of the racket made as I pounded my trimmer against the ground while stomping my feet.

Figuring that the pros must not have to deal with the same lousy designs as the lightweight home models, I have even rented the Honda commercial-grade professional lawn trimmers – the kind with a Civic engine on one end and the sound of a helicopter on the other. The rental shop actually gave me a harness to wear so that I could clip onto the unit to help carry the load. This harness is, itself, a dangerous addition: When the auto-feed system on this behemoth proves as frustrating as its smaller cousins, my forgetting to unclip from the unit only spun me onto my backside as I attempted to toss this monster into the street.

Owning a trimmer means that I must carry a screwdriver and a pair of wire cutters in my back pocket anytime I operate the contraption and that I WILL stop every ten feet to perform surgery on the rotary head.

This rotary head is designed by the Jack-in-the-Box toy company and it springs apart in no less than four uncatchable pieces, but only after I have given up on utilizing the “depress here to disconnect spool” button to release the cartridge and have pried the head apart with the screwdriver, gouging my hand at least twice in the process.

Once the head is opened up, I recognize the recurring problem. As a veteran Boy Scout leader, I will say that I would be more impressed by this machine if they would just market the thing for what it really is: an “Automatic-Internal-Bowline-Knot-tying-Device”. I retrieve the wire cutters and begin searching for the exact spot to snip to free the line without ruining the entire spool; studying the situation as if I were defusing a bomb. One false snip and “bang”, I will explode and stomp off toward the garage to retrieve yet another length of nylon string.

I am always careful in preparing my spools to the God of Weed Whackers, hoping that this time my offering will be accepted and I can trim my entire sidewalk in one single pass. I have tried heavy string, light string, orange, green, and white string. I have wrapped it tightly and I have wrapped it loosely. I have squeezed some of the blood from my fore-mentioned gouged palms into the head just in case this is one of those Gods who likes that sort of thing. Finally, I tuck the string into place more gently than I do my own children at bedtime, giving myself a blood blister as the cap snaps in place with a pinch. I am all set. Incredibly, despite two decades of futility, I somehow find myself believing that this just might work this time.

As I fire up the machine, excess line spins outward to an orbit beyond the designed limits of the debris shield and a noise sounding like a catfight is emitted as the whirling nylon dervish below does battle with the built-in knife blade designed to keep the line trimmed to a prescribed length. At last the line is trimmed and I hear that sweet whirl of singing nylon and I am ready to bring the grass under my submission.

I trim around a fence post – so far so good. I begin the journey down the sidewalk. The pitch of the humming line goes higher, letting me know the line is now shorter, so I tap downward. The line advances and the pitch drops back to a pleasant hum. I find myself believing that this may be the day the stars aligned.

A moment later I give the spool another tap. No change in pitch. Another tap and the pitch keeps growing higher still. My pulse quickens and my blood pressure rises. Then comes the dreaded snap and I know I have lost again. Defeated, I am nonetheless grateful for the loud and whining sound of the 2-stroke engine that shields the neighborhood children from the blessings I am pronouncing upon this wonderful invention.

I believe our moral leaders offer us wise counsel as they warn that the enemy to our souls may use modern technologies to bring out the worst in us. I know that my own personal tormentor – that “Wascally Weed Whacker”, has whacked me down to a smaller man than I wish to be and I realize that a beautiful garden is not worth the price of becoming an uglier man. Perhaps it’s time that I “upgrade” to a pair of manual lawn shears to do my trimming, recognizing that, quite often, those promising us an easy way are only feeding us a line.