This Computer Generation

generations

I have discovered the real reason that we have children and encourage our children to have children.

Last week, one of my lights went out.  A blue dot, it had glowed on a dusty, black molded plastic device on the corner of my desk.  Normally, since you can land airplanes from the various indicator lights shining around my house, I wouldn’t have cared or even noticed.  However, when this little bastard committed suicide, he took the Internet with him.

[Just so you know, I’m not a Luddite.  I love technology.  But I’m a Techno-dinosaur.  I don’t know a bit from a byte from a bot, and I don’t trust any of them because of my ignorance.  Techno-answers elude me because I don’t know the right techno-questions to ask.  In fact, I don’t even speak the language and — full disclosure — I don’t actually think in techno-terms.  Technology and I are like two pages of a closed book: we touch at every point of our existence, but we’re completely different.]

Anyway …  losing the Internet, without warning, was like suddenly being struck blind.  The panic was palpable.  I started thrashing around, waving my arms in the cyber darkness — propelling the mouse and hitting keys like a Rhesus monkey.  “Reboot!  Reboot!  They always tell you to reboot.”  I rebooted.  I swore.  I swore some more.  I started  randomly turning thing off and turning them back on again.  I unplugged.  I plugged.  I reversed cables.  I disconnected various wires and stuck them into a variety of other holes.  I realized I couldn’t remember what went where, anymore.  I unleashed a torrent of obscenities that is still hanging over the Pacific Ocean like a radioactive cloud.  I stopped.  I roared in frustration.  I wept.  I went for a walk.  I came back, sat down and looked at the dismantled mess on my desk.  This went on for three days and on the fourth day, I reached for the comfort of 2Oth century technology and telephoned my niece — my great-niece actually — on a land line.

Like Ground Control to Apollo 13, she methodically guided me through the reassembly process, calmly reconstructed the disaster, assessed the situation and isolated the problem.

“No, Uncle Bill!  The Internet doesn’t hate you; it’s your modem.”
“No, you can’t fix it.  You need to buy a new one.  Why don’t you get a good one this time?”
Then, she spoke gibberish for a minute and a half, and I dutifully wrote it all down.

The next day, I went to the retail techno-scoundrels with the note from my niece.  They pillaged my credit card and gave me a box large enough to hide their treachery.  Inside, there was a new black molded plastic device and a pamphlet of illustrated instruction.  I followed the instructions to the letter (picture?) plugged it in and — a miracle happened!  There was a little green light, shining bravely in the sun-drenched summer afternoon, and I knew I had been delivered.  I sank to my knees in praise of all that I know to be holy and thanked the Almighty that my sisters had indeed gone forth and multiplied.  Now I understand that, without a second, third and even a fourth generation to guide us through the labyrinth of technology, it would run amok.

And from there, it would only be a matter of time before we found ourselves up to our elbows in Terminators.

 

Casualties Of The Internet (Part Two)

casualties

I love the Internet, but here are a few casualties of our increasing dependence on technology — Part Two.

Memory — Remember Algebra?  Neither do I.  It’s not important to me.  Nor do I remember the atomic number of zinc, how to spell concieve (conceive?) or the names of some of those odd little countries that used to be the Soviet Union.  I don’t remember any of that stuff.   But the Internet does.  It remembers everything.  Unfortunately, because of that, I don’t remember my Aunt Vera’s mailing address either, or my sister’s telephone number, or most of my friends’ birthdays — and these things are important to me.  My point is, for most of human history, people remembered things.  In fact, when stuff was really, really important, they carved it into stone — just in case.  However, since the Internet, we don’t remember much of anything — important or not.  We let the Internet do it for us and trust that some evil little hacker from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan doesn’t get pissed off, one rainy winter evening, and wipe it all out.

Bricks and Mortar Stores — When I was a kid, the butcher used to call my mother “Mrs. Fyfe.”  My sisters used to flirt with the checkout clerks at the grocery store.  My dad knew the guys at the lumberyard — by name.  And, once, the girl at the bookstore hid the last copy of Welcome To The Monkey House under the counter for me.  These were not unusual occurrences.  Everybody my age has similar experiences.  These days, however, I haven’t been to a bookstore since I discovered Amazon because there aren’t any left in my neighbourhood.  (I’m not sure which happened first.)  I just bought a Roomba and the first time I saw it was when I opened the box.  I shop at a grocery store that’s so large it needs its own GPS and find myself envying people in England who can shop at Tesco from the privacy of their own pajamas.  We are the last generation of touch-and-feel retail.

Blood and Bones People — I have nieces and nephews I haven’t seen since they were children, but I recognize their husbands and wives.  I’ve seen their homes, know what they eat for dinner, where they go on vacation and what they do for fun.  I’ve had conversations (and arguments) with people I don’t even know.  Strangers compliment me every day.  I play games with people who don’t have names and might very well be figments of a digital imagination.  And I have no idea where many of my friends live because I’ve never met them. The truth is, even though we might not want to admit it, in the 21st century, most of us have just as much human contact online as we do face-to-face.  The problem is electronic people might LOL but they don’t laugh; they can emoji, but they can’t cry.  They don’t spill their wine, ruin your makeup, squeeze your hand, slurp their soup, or kiss you goodbye.  And it is this indisputable fact — more than what and how we remember, or where and when we shop — that’s changing our society more radically and rapidly than ever before in human history.

Casualties Of The Internet (Part 1)

casualties

I love the Internet, but here are a few casualties of our increasing dependence on technology.

Telephone Books — One of the first was the telephone book.  When I was a kid, everybody had a telephone book.  The first thing you did when you got a new one was find yourself in it.  It was an opportunity, as a little kid, to actually see that you had a place in the bigger world.  However, the best use of the telephone book was, on lazy afternoons, looking up people with funny names.  One year, Mrs. Cranston’s entire 4th grade class laughed for weeks when Marvin L. Ramsbottom moved to town.

Maps — Before the Internet, maps had the ability not only to place you in the world physically but to distinguish you from the billions of other humans occupying it –philosophically.  Back in the day, every kid knew this and to prove it they would eventually write their name, their address, their city, their county, their state or province, their country, their continent, their hemisphere, Earth, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe.  And it all started with a little finger pointing on a map.  Practically, however, maps were the exclusive property of dads and were notorious for being badly folded, badly drawn and just plain wrong.  Eventually, all maps ended in a parental argument over exactly when to abandon middle-class machismo, stop the car and ask for directions.

Money — Incredible as it may seem, before the Internet, money was a tangible object.  It had weight.  It made a noise.  It told us just exactly where we stood in the world — because it was finite.  We either had enough money or we didn’t, and after a few trial and error disappointments, we discovered that the world is full of choices.  When bus fare, movie and popcorn were beyond our financial capability — somebody was going to walk.  Of course, all kids knew money was important because their parents were constantly reminding them that a) they (the parents) weren’t made of money, b) it didn’t grow on trees and c) they weren’t going to throw good money away on that (whatever it was we thought we wanted.)

So, what have we learned?

1 — Smart phones have put us all in me-and-mine electronic ghettos.
2 — Technology doesn’t give a rat’s ass about our unique position in the world.
3 — The near infinite nature of digital money has destroyed our ability to make decisions.
4 — Technology can suck the fun out of life.