It’s weird to feel yourself becoming a curmudgeon.  Especially when it’s about technology.  Someone asked me the other day if I could send an audio file of something I’d recorded.  I stopped doing podcasts because I lost track of the server that had been hosting the files.  My “inbox was full” or some such nonsense—they’re just electrons, folks.  I’m already paying for the space to host this blog and one thing I know about audio files is they take up lots of space.  My laptop reminds me of that every time it wants to update.  Well, I recorded the requested audio file and wanted to send it along.  I couldn’t find it.  Now, I’m one of those people who started using Apple computers because they were intuitive.  You could easily guess, or reason out, where things were.  It’s not that way anymore.

I had to do a web search (use Ecosia!  They plant trees for your searches!) for where Macs store your audio recordings so that I could send it.  Buried deeply in a directory that has a nondescript name that you’d never possibly guess (it’s as if someone were to assign you Concluding Unscientific Postscript during a game of book-title charades), the helpful site said, you’ll find it.  It’s in your “Library.”  Well sir, Mac had decided that you no longer needed to navigate your way to your Library and that directory was hidden.  Another Ecosia search—more trees—and I learned that you could do a special preference tweaking (it only took four or five steps) so that your computer would display your own Library and you could find your renamed file that you’d created.

Back in the day (here’s the curmudgeon part) when you had to swap discs—floppies—and the computer had the memory capacity of a Republican senator, you knew which disc had your files.  To access them, you simply inserted the disc.  Later they were stored on the hard drive itself and the directory told you right where you’d find them.  Now who knows where your created content is stored—out there on a cloud somewhere, I hear.  That doesn’t help when a friend asks you to send a file.  I had no idea where it even was.  It’s job security for the tech sector, to be sure.  At least it helped me to plant some trees along the way.  Back in the day we used to say you can lose sight of the forest for the trees.  It works, it seems, the other way around as well.

Illusions of Permanence

Blogging about the ancient world presents idiosyncratic problems. Quite apart from the fact that few readers show much interest in the shadowy ages of antiquity when new tunes and flicks are available to download just mouse-clicks away, the worldview of ancient people is difficult to comprehend. Most people before the common era probably focused their energies on their crops and beasts, hoping to survive for as long as possible in a subsistence world. I’m sure they would have appreciated an i-pod as they were out plowing or were at home weaving and cooking, but theirs was a solid, practical world where reality could be brutally felt.

Fast-forward to our day. I can’t teach a class of undergraduates without noticing their constant attention to their electronic arsenals forever at hand. Cell-phones, i-pods, laptops, and god-knows what-else making as much buzzing and chirping noise as a meadow in springtime. This constant interruption is what Linda Stone has coined “continuous partial attention.” Kids are raised to juggle many sources of input or stimulation at one time, an activity that befuddles those of us raised when television was black-and-white and telephones were heavy devices solidly settled in one place. The disconnect is palpable.

I read in Wired magazine some years back a whimsical analysis of data storage. A chart indicated the most reliable means of keeping data over long periods. Electronic media suffers from rapidly increasing technology (does anyone have a 5-and-a-quarter inch floppy drive I can borrow?) as well as the transience of the media itself (electrons marching in order). On the top of Wired’s chart for durability was the humble clay tablet with a period of about 5000 years. I chuckled at the chart, but deep in my psyche I know that a major power-outage, or a catastrophically failing server could plunge my electronic compositions and data into oblivion. We have so much information out there, but what happens if it flies away in the tale of an errant comet? My suggestion to the younger generation is to learn cuneiform. It may take a few years, but as a storage solution it is rock-solid.

The original hard copy