Silicon or Paper?

Most of us follow blindly through this tech jungle.  We do it, I suppose, because there are rewards for having the world of information and entertainment at your fingertips.  The problem is that the constant upgrades are expensive and as you approach retirement age—even if you can’t afford to retire—you have to keep spending in order to meet your tech needs.  A few years ago I purchased an app because apparently my laptop was running too slowly.  I do tend to have more than one app open at a time, I confess.  Maybe too many.  But apps take up so much operating memory these days that you can either constantly quit and reopen (if you have a mind like mine) or you can upgrade.  And even then you’re not sure of what you’re doing.

I’m old enough, you see, to remember having to load the program you wanted to use via floppy disc when you booted up.  We all assumed the swapping of discs was the price you paid for being able to, say, type a dissertation without using white-out all the time.  Then we started hearing these rumors of an “internet” with “email.”  I found my first (and it turns out, only) full-time professorship via letter.  Delivered by the post office.  A friend wrote to me about the opening and I sent a fateful letter of inquiry to Nashotah House.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I’ve kept much of the paper of those early days.  The movers always complain that I’ve done so, but I’m between worlds.  I was born in a paper world and I don’t trust this electronic one.  That’s why I still buy physical books.  I’ve had too many devices die on me.  And now I keep only one or two apps open at a time, and forget to look at the stuff on the others—I keep them open to remind me.

It is a jungle, this virtual world.  We like to think it’s civilized but what do we really know?  So I deleted the app that pops up telling me that one app open at a time is too taxing for my computer’s memory.  Then I remembered that I pay an annual fee for such annoying reminders.  I had to reinstall and await the notices again.  Yes, some of my files are big.  I write books, and that’s just the way it works.  So I put up with those yappy reminders because, well, it’s better than swapping discs a dozen times just to type a sentence or two when I have time.


God wasn’t thinking of search engine optimization (SEO) when he was writing the Bible.  First of all, he doesn’t seem to have considered that all the nice, short names he used would soon become the most common in the western world.  And he didn’t give all the characters last names.  Job is particularly egregious because you could be searching for employment and not a complaining old man (you can always find one of the latter here!).  Perhaps he wasn’t aware at the time just how popular his book would become so that just about everything in it appears on some twenty-million webpages and you need some distinctive keywords for SEO.  And this unfortunate high profile has also led to knock-on search problems.

I quite often have to search for bits of the Good Book together.  “Pentateuch” isn’t so bad because it’s a bigger word that most people don’t use every day.  But what about “historical books”?  It’s two words and search engines begin scouring the web for pages that have both words.  And there are plenty of historical books outside the Bible.  Writings?  Poetry?  Even Gospels is used all over the place.  I had to find something about the Catholic Epistles the other day.  My search engine found plenty of places with both words, but not linked together.  (I know the quotation mark trick, but bear with me here as I’m trying to make a point that will perhaps lead to divine intervention.)  I tried again with Pastoral Epistles but the same problem arose.  This is the burden of being so important that everyone copies you.

It’s the price of success.  God surely must’ve foreseen that.  The problem is that Holy Writ predates the internet by so many centuries.  Those who’ve determined how searching works have redefined our lives—have given us new commandments.  Thou shalt not put commas in titles, for example.  Thou shalt use distinctive keywords.  Pity the fool who must find information on a biblical character with only one name.  Perhaps that name is John.  Or David.  Or Mary.  Sure, you can add qualifiers but they’re all common words as well.  The Good Book is a victim of its own success.  And for containing all the prophecy that it does it is truly amazing that not even the creator of the universe didn’t see this coming.  We live in a world driven by tech and although the Bible had a direct role leading to that world, you wouldn’t know it by your standard Google search.

How To Build a Bomb

We see footage of the tragedy in Ukraine.  Or the miles and miles of film documenting World War II with its hell from the skies bombings.  Bomb after bomb after bomb.  I recently wrote of how tragic this is in the light of the Turkey-Syria earthquake.  Just a few days before that, the New York Times ran an interest piece on how bombs are made.  Now, there’s no excusing it, but boys seem to like explosions.  Although I’m a pacifist, I was fascinated by how long the process is and how specialized the work, to make a bomb (technically a shell, but the result’s the same).  And then we see the footage and realize all this time, money, and technology are going into objects to be shot at other human beings.  Rise and kill.

It is an indictment of our species that we spend so terribly much on destroying others of our own kind.  Some of this is evolution, surely, but some of it is consciousness gone awry.  Nobody wants to be the victim of somebody else’s bombs.  At the same time, there are different political philosophies in the world and our history has made us distrust, and maybe even hate, one another.  I think of Putin and his hatred of the west.  And then I think how close we are.  From mainland to mainland, Russia and Alaska are only 55 miles apart.  If you include the islands, that figure drops to 3 or 4 miles.  And an entire ideological world.  This is such a strange fiction we’ve created.  

Some experts tell us that our systems of allowing strong men to rise to the top (and note, female belligerent national leaders are quite rare) will inevitably lead to war.  Of the making of bombs there is no end.  These guys in the news story require bomb making to take home paychecks to support their families.  Even now there are war zones throughout the world where it’s not safe to wander because of ordinance.  Some of them are even here in the United States.  On a visit to a friend in West Virginia we went to Dolly Sods Wilderness area.  It’s rugged and wild and beautiful.  Once used as an area for military training, unexploded ordinance still exists there.  Visitors are warned of this, of course.  But there are other mined and fought-over areas where the innocent are still killed long after the war has ended.  As an adult boy I’ve become less impressed with explosions.  If you live long enough, ideally, you should begin to understand life is a gift, and not something to be thrown away.  Or taken by someone else’s bombs.

Virtually Taxed

Nobody ever explained it to me.  DVDs, with no moving parts, can still go bad.  Having amassed a library of them over the years, and storing them the recommended way, I nevertheless come across several that have “damaged” areas—like a skip in a record—that confuses readers to the point that the movie simply isn’t enjoyable to watch.  The other day my wife had a hankering to watch one of those movies.  I checked our two streaming services and it was only available for rent, or “purchase.”  I still can’t wrap my head around buying something that doesn’t exist with money that’s purely electronic.  And people don’t believe in the spiritual world!  Well, I bit the bullet and clicked to “buy” the movie—perpetual access is what we call it in the biz.  We watched and all was well with the world.

The next day when I went to file away the receipt, which came in the form of an email, I noticed that we’d been virtually taxed for this virtual purchase.  It never occurred to me before that when you’re buying electrons configured in a certain way, that this is a taxable event.  And your tax is based on the state in which you live.  If you’re in a place with no state tax—New Hampshire, I’m looking at you—these electronic purchases will save you some money.  The funny thing about this is the system works only because we believe in it.  The skeptic who says “What, exactly, did I just purchase?” raises a valid question.  Despite current trends, I don’t mind a bit of clutter.  I can always find the physical object I’m looking for.  It’s the electronic ones that give me trouble.

Our world is becoming less and less substantial.  More and more virtual.  Some of us prefer the corporeal sensations of the hunter-gatherer world.  Feet on actual ground, hands on actual book.  Or DVD.  Whatever.  The cloud, with its taxes, strikes me as distinctly odd.  Politicians can virtually live in a state—Dr. Oz wasn’t, and isn’t, a resident of Pennsylvania—so can I virtually move to New Hampshire and not pay taxes on my electronic purchases?  I’ve always wanted to live in New England, but my jobs have never allowed it.  There’s something about this physical universe, and house prices being what they are I can’t see a move anytime soon.  To deal with this reality I guess I’ll stay where I’m physically located and just watch a movie.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

Blooming in December

The cascading petunias are doing fine.  It’s a little odd to see them in December, given that petunias are annuals, not perennials.  (The terminology has always been confusing to me—annual could mean, as it does, that they only grow one year.  Exegeted differently, however, annual could mean that they come back yearly, but it doesn’t and they don’t.)  The Aerogarden (not a sponsor) system provides plants with a perfect mixture of light, water, and nutrition.  The only thing missing is the soil.  Hydroponic, the unit gives plants the ability to prolong their blooming life preternaturally long.  These particular petunias have been blossoming since January and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.  This is kind of what science is able to do for people too—keeping us going, even as nature is indicating, well, it’s December.

I often wonder what the flowers think about it.  We keep our house pretty cool in winter.  Partly it’s an expense thing and partly it’s an environment thing.  In the UK they talked of “overheated American houses”—how many times I Zoom with people even further north and see them wearing short sleeves indoors in December!—and we went about three years without using the heat in our Edinburgh flat.  You see those movies where Europeans are wearing vest and suit coat over their shirts (and presumably undershirt) at home?  It occurs to me that it was likely because they kept their houses fairly cold.  In any case, I suppose the low sixties aren’t too bad for plants, but they certainly aren’t summer temperatures.  Still, what must they think?

Set on a counter where the summer sun came in, at first they gravitated toward the window during May and June.  Even with their scientifically designed grow light, they knew the sun although they’d never even sprouted outdoors.  That’s the thing with science.  I’m grateful for it, don’t get me wrong, but it can’t fool plants.  We can’t replicate sunshine, although we can try to make something similar.  (Fusion’s a bit expensive to generate in one’s home.)   So it is with all our efforts to create “artificial intelligence.”  We don’t even know what natural intelligence is—it’s not all logic and rules.  We know through our senses and emotions too.  And those are, in some measure, chemical and environmental.  It’s amazing to awake every morning and find blooming petunias offering their sunny faces to the world.  As they’re approaching their first birthday I wonder about what they think about all of this.  What must it be like to be blooming in December?

Birthing Stars

Fusion.  The recent breakthrough with fusion announced so close to Christmas hardly seems a coincidence to me.  I have to admit to having been interested in fusion since high school.  One of my school term papers was on what was then called a “magnetic bottle”—a theoretical device capable of containing a fusion reaction.  The hydrogen bomb, of course, had already demonstrated that fusion was possible.  Controlling it was, at the time, the difficulty.  Now, I’m no scientist.  I’ve read quite a bit of lay science over the years and even worked on a project about the relationship of science to religion.  Still, you can’t follow everything.  I’d lost contact with fusion until the announcement this week that scientists have finally demonstrated that it’s possible to get more energy out of a controlled fusion reaction than it takes to get the reaction started.

In case you know even less about science than I do, fusion is what powers stars.  Unlike fission, it’s a “clean” nuclear reaction and one, as far as we can tell, that has made life possible on this planet.  Star power.  We’ve known for many decades that this could be the solution to humanity’s energy needs.  Of course, big petroleum has tried to slow such research down—there are personal fortunes to be lost and what is life without a fortune?  Now, with technology far beyond my comprehension, a fusion reaction was born that showed promise that we’re on the right track.

Photo credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it’s been rather gloomy around here this December, the thought of more sunshine cheers me.  Living in the Lehigh Valley, of course, my thoughts turn toward the Bethlehem star.  It’s such a crucial element to the Christmas story that we’d hardly know what to do without it.  Stars are our guides through the dark.  Winter nights are often clear and are opportunities to see the nighttime stars, even as we light up our artificial ones here below.  Light encourages light.  In a laboratory somewhere scientists are busy making stars.  I have to believe it’s satisfying work.  Perhaps the kind of job you’re eager to get back to the day after Christmas.  Although fusion would be used for power in general, one of the functions would surely be the giving of light.  As we move toward next week’s solstice and light our Yule logs, encouraging light to return, women and men in white smocks are designing and using complex equipment to help it on its way.

Earliest Sunset

Welcome to the day of the earliest sunset of the year.  “But how can that be?”you may ask, “since the winter solstice is many days away?” I’m no wizard when it comes to numbers or math, but I do know tomorrow’s sunset will be a minute later than today’s.  It’s the other end of the day, however, that continues to increase darkness.  Sunrise will continue to creep later and later until on January 16 it will be at its latest.  Mornings will then become longer, very, very slowly.  Combined, the shortest day will be on the 21st, almost two weeks from now.  Then sunlight will begin its slow crawl back to majority.  And so the seasons eternally negotiate on a planet that sometimes seems to spin too fast.

Those awake early, sensitive to sunrise, need to wait a bit longer than those wanting longer evenings.  There’s no taking without reciprocity here.  For those in the northern half of the northern hemisphere, winter has begun its settling in process.  Morning frost on the rooftops augurs the coming of snow.  The almost preternatural stillness of a cloudy late afternoon anticipates what’s to come.  Those of all religions, or of none at all, alike await a glimmer of lengthening days in this season of long nights.  It pays to become comfortable with the darkness in the meantime.  Dark need not equate to evil.  It invites rest and renewal.  Perhaps our culture that valorizes action and movements blurred with speed might learn from the hours of diminished light.

Walking into an early morning room with a light switch on a far wall is an act of faith.  If done before any artificial lights are engaged, it’s always surprising how much light crowds in on the dark.  The luminescent clock.  The power strip on button.  The ever-watchful router.  Darkness is seldom absolute, as much as the tenebrous circumstances might suggest such extremes.  Light and darkness need each other to find any kind of definition at all.  Starting tomorrow, there will be incrementally longer moments of day stretching out into night.  Mornings will grow more reluctant to release their light for another month or so.  In the midst of this we snuggle down into the darkness and learn from it.  Learn to slow down.  Learn to listen instead of always looking.  Learn to breathe slowly and accept that the darkness can comfort.  The solstice is coming, in good time.  Until it arrives, be in the twilight of the moment and trust it.

Dangers of Bookmarks

So you’re a busy person and you don’t always have time to act on something immediately.  Or you have to wait until the next billing cycle to afford something.  Daily life comes at you like a Russian missile, so you need to leave reminders around so that you don’t forget.  For me, those reminders often take the form of tabs.  On my browser I leave at least a dozen tabs open to remind me of things—I’ve got to get those cartons ready for mailing to recycle; thanks for reminding me.  I actually look forward to being able to click a tab closed because that means I accomplished something.  There are so many things to do and time is so rare.  Then the inevitable happened.

I was leading a Zoom meeting and I had to keep track of attendance.  Since I was leading I didn’t want to stop in the middle and write a bunch of names down, so I took a screenshot.  My poor laptop got confused and kept the screenshot on top.  Since the screen shot showed all the open windows (it’s not just the browser that’s open, but all the writing projects in the two different programs I use as well, all in various stages of completion), I couldn’t tell how to click out of the screenshot.  I couldn’t see the actual Zoom meeting or if someone was raising her or his hand.  I tried to keep the discussion going while trying to get Zoom back to the front.  I began clicking any window shut that I could.  Finally Zoom reemerged.

After the meeting I had to examine the carnage.  My browser had been closed and when I reopened it, the option to restore all closed tabs from the last session was grayed out.  I would have to rebuild my tabs from memory.  It was because of my overwrought memory that I’d kept those tabs open in the first place!  Before going corporate, when I could take my time and pay attention, I had a very good memory for things like this.  (As a professor I had time to act on things during the day instead of constantly thinking “I’ve got to get back to work.”)  Now too much is happening all the time.  I’m having Zoom meetings after work when I normally get my day to day business done.  So I’ve added a new task to all the others—trying to reconstruct my lost tabs.  Yes, it’s a classic “first world problem.”  At least that’s what I think it’s called—let me open a new tab and check.

A different kind of bookmark


That string of ten digits becomes your personal identity.  It’s conveyed by a pocket-sized device that’s so expensive you have to pay for it in installments.  And it’s not a one-time expense.  For a monthly fee that would’ve sent our parents calling on AT&T we carry a compact computer with us at all times and call it a phone because it responds to those ten digits.  The trend is to replace them every two or three years as more and more features become available, many of which, one suspects, are never used.  So, with a notice from our carrier that the card in one of our devices would no longer work at the end of this year, having reached the end of its life, we found ourselves in one of the countless phone stores around the country.

I mused as we waited—buying a replacement phone took two hours out of a Saturday, and that didn’t count driving time—at how complicated life has become.  One of our cars, purchased in 2003, also needs replacing.  My wife and I have to coordinate a day off work to buy one.  It pretty much took a whole day the last time we bought a car.  It’s complicated.  Credit checks, titles, registration, insurance.  And oh so much money.  You can’t, however, live without a car.  Not if you don’t reside in a major city.  You need to get to the grocery store, to doctor’s appointments, the hardware store—and the telephone store.  Many of these places exist in their own carefully zoned commercial habitats and since they have the necessities of life, you need to go to them.  Meanwhile, the internet offers to send them to you.

Ads now tell me you can buy your car online and some smiling stranger will drop it off right at your house.  It’s just that easy!  What they don’t say is all the work that must, I’m assuming, be done in advance.  The insurance, the financing, title transfer, trade in, let alone nothing of the test drive.  Now you have to figure all that out in advance.  Let’s face it—nothing is easy.  If you’re reading this you’re doing it on a highly sophisticated device that may have cost you quite a bit of money.  If it’s a phone it bears your personal ten digits that can be used to reach you at all times and in all places and that, in fact, knows where you are at all times.  Even if you’re out for a virtual test drive.


Shooting the moon.  It’s such a simple thing.  Or it should be.  I don’t go out of my way to see lunar eclipses, but I had a front row seat to yesterday’s [I forgot to post this yesterday and nobody apparently noticed…].  I could see the full moon out my office window, and I’m already well awake and into my personal work before 5:00 a.m.  When it was time I went into the chilly morning air and tried to shoot the moon with my phone.  It’s pitiful to watch technology struggle.  The poor camera is programmed to average the incoming light and although the moon was the only source of light in the frame, it kept blurring it up, thinking, in its Artificial Intelligence way, “this guy is freezing his fingers off to take a blurred image of the semi-darkness.  Yes, that’s what he’s trying to do.”  

Frustrated, I went back inside for our digital camera.  It wasn’t charged up and it would take quite some time to do so.  Back outside I tried snapping photos as the phone tried to decide what I wanted.  Yes, it focused the moon beautifully, for a half second, then decided for the fuzzy look.  I had to try to shoot before it had its say.  Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if my old Pentax K-1000 had some 400 ASI film in it.  But it doesn’t, alas.  And so I had to settle for what passes for AI appreciation of the beauty of the moon.

Artificial Intelligence can’t understand the concept of beauty, partially because it differs between individuals.  Many of us think the moon lovely, that beacon of hope in an ichor sky.  But why?  How do we explain this in zeros and ones?  Do we trust programmers’ sense of beauty?  Will it define everyone else’s?  No, I don’t want the ambient light averaged out.  The fact that my phone camera zoomed in to sharp focus before ultimately deciding against it shows that it wasn’t a mechanical incapability.  Sure, there may be instructions for photographing in the dark, but they’re not obvious standing out here and my freezing fingers can’t quite manipulate the screen with the nimbleness of the well warmed.  There were definite benefits to having manual control over the photographic process.  Of course, now that closet full of prints and slides awaits that mythic some day when I’ll have time to digitize them all.  Why do I get the feeling that the moon isn’t the only thing being eclipsed?

Data Protection

I learned to type on an actual typewriter.  For many—likely the majority—of those my age or older, that was the case.  Schools in the seventies, perhaps anticipating the computer revolution, emphasized that both boys and girls should learn typing. At least my school did.  Those were the heady days of electric typewriters that smacked the paper with a satisfying thwack at the slightest touch on the keys.  In circumstances whose details I simply can’t remember, my mother bought me an old, manual typewriter at a garage sale or something.  One thing is certain—it didn’t cost much.  It worked, however, and I typed away writing stories and plays and even attempted letters to editors.  I’d been writing long before that, of course.  Some of my early fiction was in pencil on school tablet paper and I think I still might have a few survivors from that era in the attic.

The image of the noisy newsroom full of clacking typewriters still conveys a kind of power.  Writers in those days, if they were prominent enough, could bang away at the keyboard, jerk the results out, put them in an envelope and be assured of publication.  Everything seems more difficult these days.  Computers have made writers of so many people that it’s difficult to get noticed.  More important, however, is the fact that print preserved data.  Newspaper was cheap, so perhaps the newsroom isn’t the best example.  Kept dry and in climate-controlled environments such as libraries, books keep a very long time.  Longer than the life of the author, or so it is hoped.

Data backup is now a constant concern.  A couple years back, an unfortunate bump on my own terabyte drive led to a quite expensive data recovery bill with some information lost forever.  Throughout the process I kept thinking, if all of this were printed out at least I’d be able to access it.  So true.  The vinyl market demonstrates that not everyone is willing to put up with the artificiality of electronic media.  Those who promote it tend to shy away from discussing its fragility.  Even now when I have a story published I print it out so that if the data becomes corrupted it can at least be retyped.  My most recent double-backup took an entire Saturday to accomplish.  Who knows what memory-intensive software lies behind each keystroke?  I look at the humble typewriter and tell myself that certain plateaus were perhaps more stable than the majestic mountains with their landslides and crevasses.  And I always found that clacking noise soothing, as ideas were preserved in solid form.

No Words

I read something scary recently.  And no, it was not a horror story.  I work in publishing and we have to keep abreast of developments, so I’ve had a glimpse of the future.  Publishers are now starting to look toward the time when information will no longer be conveyed by the written word.  A picture’s worth a thousand of them, after all.  This new future will convey information by video, or whatever the replacement of video will be.  Perhaps some are looking forward to the Matrix direct downloading model.  Perhaps the computer will be able to simulate the pleasures of reading a book, of browsing in a bookstore, of writing with pen on paper.  Something about the process and discipline of reading has made us what we are.

Star Wars, as others have noted, is set in a world with no paper.  You won’t find a scrap blowing in the wind, even on Tatooine.  Nobody is shown reading.  Plenty of action, but no wizard behind his big book of spells, no princess writing down her inmost thoughts.  Make a recording and plug it into your R2-unit.  Perhaps this is heresy, but compare this to Star Trek.  The episode “Court Martial” has Cogley (Elisha Cook, before he applied to become Rosemary’s landlord) saying to Kirk, “Books, young man, books. Thousands of them. If time wasn’t so important, I’d show you something. My library. Thousands of books.”  We always thought even the future would have plenty of reading material.  Now we’re being told the technology is passé. 

The constant emphasis on “data-driven analysis”—mostly in an effort to get more money—seems to mistake the downloading of knowledge for the pleasure of reading.  They’re not the same.  I love movies, as any regular reader will know.  Perhaps ironically, I write books about them.  The thing is, I watch them largely to write about them.  Knowledge downloading is getting the cart before the horse.  I’ve read even nonfiction books wrapped in awe.  An author’s way with words, the phrasing, the craft, the artistry.  These are pleasures.  Sure, images can show an interpretation but there are those of us who will always want to read the book before we see the movie.  Can you get the actors’ faces out of your head if you do it the other way around?  There are those who celebrate this sterile future.  And there are those of us who won’t even go there if we don’t have a book in hand to read, just in case.

Image credit:Bender, Albert M., artist; Federal Art Project, sponsor. Public domain.

Shatner’s Space

We constantly underestimate the power of fiction.  It’s difficult to break into getting fiction published.  It wasn’t always that way.  When the pulps were still a thing often it took a thimble of talent and a handful of persistence.  Publishers were looking for content and those with typewriters were clacking away as fast as they could.  Ding!  Carriage return.  These days it’s harder.  This came to mind in thinking about William Shatner’s trip to space and his subsequent reaction.  As several news outlets said in anticipation of Shatner’s new book, the experience made him feel profoundly sad and not a little cold.  So much empty space and we still haven’t figured out how to travel fast enough to reach our nearest neighbors.  We don’t even know if we’ll like them when we meet them.

Others, in defense of space exploration, were quick to counter Shatner.  He’s not a real astronaut, after all, having spent nine decades earth-bound.  Or so they said.  But I think I understand, as a fellow land-lubber, where he’s coming from.  We’ve only really got one chance on this planet, being the only creatures evolved enough to type, to capture our thoughts—our essence—in words that can be preserved.  And wildlife statistics are showing an alarming decrease in other animals since the 1970s.  If we’re all that’s left and we can do no better than to elect fascists, well, stand me with Captain Kirk.  We look to the skies and see, well, empty space.  And besides, we need to get home because it’s supper time.

Image credit: NBC Television, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The reason Shatner got a free ride to space was, of course, fiction.  Star Trek captured the imagination of my generation and those with actual science ability started to put that kind of future together.  Today we can talk to computers and they still mishear us, often with laughable results.  But if writers of fiction hadn’t been available the show would never have succeeded and what would a Canadian actor have had to do?  Maybe a crime drama or two?  And even those require writers.  It seems to me that we should be encouraging fiction writers with talent.  Believe me, I’ve read plenty who really haven’t got it (often in the self-published aisle) but I know firsthand how difficult it is to get fiction noticed.  It’s like, to borrow an image, being blasted off into a dark, cold, empty space and looking at the blue orb below and wanting to be home for supper.

Bad Dog!

A few years back, it was, when I saw my first video of a robo-dog.  I don’t mean the cute ones that you might fool yourself into thinking, on an off day, might be a real mammal.  I mean the bare-bones, mean-looking robot kind.  If was, of course, being developed by military contractors.  Then just days ago I saw something truly frightening.  In a video from China, one of these robo-dogs with an assault rifle and a ton of sensors mounted on it, was remotely air dropped by a drone and began policing the area.  Knowing that fleets (I’m not sure that’s the right word) of thousands of drones have been coordinated for entertainment purposes, and aware of how much money and tech militaries have, well, let’s just say nightmares aren’t just for sleeping any more.

Image credit: DARPA, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Dogs, until they mostly had it selectively bred out of them, are killers by nature.  The wolf has to be a predator to survive in the wild.  As much as we like bipedalism, it has to be admitted that four legs (or more—imagine the robo-centipede, if you dare!) benefit locomotion quite a bit.  You may get a lower angle of view but a boost for speed.  And if you see a robo-dog, especially one with a machine gun for a nose, running is where you’d want to excel.  But we’ve taken our companion—our “best friend”—and made it into yet another engine of fear.  As someone who grew up with an inordinate number of phobias, I really don’t need one more.  Of course, it’s a truism that if a technology comes from the military it will be cause for alarm.

I’m capable of dreaming.  I can dream of peace and cooperation and what we could build if we didn’t have to worry about the aggressive, the greedy, and the narcissist.  Those who never learned to play well with others but who make money easily and spend it to bend the world to their bleak, bleak vision that lacks a happy ending for all but themselves.  I can envision meeting people who are different without the first thought being exploitation—what can I get out of them?—or fear that they wish to harm me.  Humans are endlessly inventive, especially when it comes to ways to harm one another.  If our creativity could be set toward working for the benefit of all, dogs would be for petting and drones would be for seeking out new ways to solve the problems that beset us all.  Instead we make them into new nightmares.

The Persistence of Streaming

I’ve had to start keeping a list.  If I don’t I’ll forget which movies I’ve streamed.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.  Electronic information is vapid and eminently forgettable.  If you go see a movie in a theater, you’re likely to remember it.  Memory of place and occasion aid the memory of plot and effects, I suspect.  To my knowledge I’ve never had anyone ask if I’ve seen a movie that I didn’t remember, if I saw it in a theater.  Streaming—maybe yes, maybe no.  A few weeks back I found myself streaming a film and thinking “this looks awfully familiar.”  The longer I watched the more convinced I was that I’d seen it before.  When it was over I checked.  I had watched it only a few months earlier.

When you buy a DVD or Blu-ray (or even a VHS tape), the physicality of it serves as a reminder.  Unwrapping the package, handling the case, loading it into your player—these are all keys, hooks upon which memories hang.  As I’ve intimated before, movies are, I believe, our modern mythology.  The idea’s not original with me, but think about how movies are often our frame of reference around the water cooler or with friends.  What did you think of Nope?  It’s a safe way to express our beliefs and aspirations.  Even if it’s not great, it’s helpful to be able to remember it when you want to.  Streaming, it seems, often lacks commitment.  Particularly if it’s from a free site.  (I use such only when the media are otherwise unavailable.)  Maybe there’s a reason it’s free.

Streaming asks little by way of investment, financially or psychologically.  It costs time, of course, and perhaps that’s the greatest siphon of all.  If you’re a busy person time is a commodity.  Spending some of it watching a movie—depending on who you are—isn’t simply entertainment.  Mythology gives us meaning.  I suspect that’s why we value those auteurs who break through the noise and manage to stand out in our minds.  Those who know what it is to captivate an audience.  Those who are really invested in their projects.  Like most books I read, the movies I watch come from a list.  I have a reason for watching them, often related to research.  And if you put the time into it, you want to remember it.  For that, I recommend keeping a list. (Have a written a post like this before?)