Sandbenders

“I like your computer,” she said. “It looks like it was made by Indians or something.”

Chia looked down at her sandbenders. Turned off the red switch. “Coral,” she said. “These are turquoise. The ones that look like ivory are the inside of a kind of nut. Renewable.”

“The rest is silver?”

“Aluminum,” Chia said. “They melt old cans they dig up on the beach cast it in sand molds. These panels are micarta. That’s linen with this resin in it.”

Mitsuko was getting her computer out. It was one of those soft, transparent Korean units, the kind that looked like a flat bag of clear white jelly with a bunch of colored jujubes inside. Chia unzipped her bag and pulled her Sandbenders out.

‘What is that?” Mitsuko asked.

“My computer.”

Mitsuko was clearly impressed. “It is by Harley-Davidson?”

“It was made by the Sandbenders,” Chia said, finding her goggles and gloves. “They’re a commune, down on the Oregon coast. They do these and they do software.”

“It is American?”

“Sure.”

“I had not known Americans made computers,” Mitsuko said.

Chia worked each silver thimble over the tips of her fingers and thumbs, fastened the wrist straps.

“She went out,” Masahiko said. “May I look at your computer?”

“Computer?” Chia stood, confused.

“It is Sandbenders, yes?”

She poured some of the tea, which was still steaming. “Sure. You want tea?”

“No,” Masahiko said. “I drink coffee only.” He squatted on the tatami, beside the low table, and ran an admiring fingertip along the edge of the Sandbenders’ cast aluminum.
“Beautiful. I have seen a small disk player by the same maker. It is a cult, yes?”

“A commune. Tribal people. In Oregon.”

“Tell me about Sandbenders,” Masahiko said, putting the control-face away and buttoning his tunic.

“It started with a woman who was an interface designer,” Chia said, glad to change the subject. “Her husband was a jeweler, and he’d died of that nerve-attenuation thing, before they saw how to fix it. But he’d been a big green, too, and he hated the way consumer electronics were made, a couple of little chips and boards inside these plastic shells. The shells were just point-of-purchase eye-candy, he said, made to wind up in the landfill if nobody recycled it, and usually nobody did. So, before he got sick, he used to tear up her hardware, the designer’s, and put the real parts into cases he’d make in his shop. Say he’d make a solid bronze case for a minidisk unit, ebony inlays, carve the control surfaces out of fossil ivory, turquoise, rock crystal. It weighed more, sure, but it turned out a lot of people liked that, like they had their music or their memory, whatever, in something that felt like it was there. . . . And people liked touching all that stuff: metal, a smooth stone. . . . And once you had the case, when the manufacturer brought out a new model, well, if the electronics were any better, you just pulled the old ones out and put the new ones in your case. So you still had the same object, just with better functions.”
Masahiko’s eyes were closed, and he seemed to be nodding slightly, though perhaps only with the motion of the train.

“And it turned out some people liked that, too, liked it a lot. He started getting commissions to make these things. One of the first was for a keyboard, and the keys were cut from the keys of an old piano, with the numbers and letters in silver. But then he got sick . .

Masahiko’s eyes opened, and she saw that not only had he been listening, but that he was impatient for more.

“So after he was dead, the software designer started thinking about all that, and how she wanted to do something that took what he’d been doing into something else. So she cashed out her stock in all the companies she’d worked for, and she bought some land on the coast, in Oregon-”

And the train pulled into Shinjuku, and everyone stood up, heading for the doors…

(the above from Idoru by William Gibson)

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