Slab of Affection

There's a striking passage from a collection of nonfiction called Between Eternities by Javier Marías'. It's from a piece called “Air-ships,” which explores the act of anthropomorphizing objects:

We live in an age that tends to depersonalize even people, and which is, in principle, averse to anthropomorphism. Indeed, such a tendency is often criticized, erroneously and foolishly in my view, since that “rapprochement” between the human and the nonhuman is quite natural and spontaneous, and far from being an attempt to deprive animals, plants and objects of their respective selves, it places them in the category of the “humanizable,” which is, for us, the highest and most respectable of categories. I know people who talk to, question, spoil, threaten or even quarrel with their computers, saying things like: “Right, now, behave yourself” or thanking them for their help. There's nothing wrong in that, it's perfectly understandable. In fact, given how often we travel in planes, the odd thing about our relationship with them — those complex machines endowed with movement, to which we surrender ourselves, and that transport us through the air — is that it isn't more “personal' or more “animal” or more “sailor-like,” if you prefer [...] That's what I would like to see, less cool efficiency and more affection [.]

I find it curious that Marías mentions computers as an example of anthropomorphism, because there's another type of computer that defies such characterization — the cloud, or, as Robin Sloan calls it (and what I prefer), the slab.

The slab makes saying things like “Right, now, behave yourself” feel strange. We're not talking about a laptop at your desk. It's a data center in a discrete location you access from a laptop. Who knows what part of the data center you access. The slab is an amorphous thing.

Could the slab be anthropomorphized?

The apps that are lovingly crafted with Glitch are powered by the slab. The hand crafted blogging software I use is powered by the slab. Many things on the web I cherish are powered by the slab. Does that make them depersonalized all of a sudden? No. The slab's cool efficiency is imbued with human affection.

It makes you wonder though. Earlier I used “the web” and the slab in the same sentence. Is the web our way of anthropomorphizing the Internet, which is technically a broad network of computers?