There are those who celebrate technology, and those who mourn it. I fall somewhere in the middle. One of the selling points for our house was keyless entry. The great thing about it is you never have to worry about forgetting your keys. The bad thing is that batteries don’t like cold weather. The former owners of our house seem to have had it even less together than we do, They had no instructions or emergency keys for these electronic locks. So it would happen on a cold, blustery weekend morning we would find ourselves locked out of our most expensive possession. Now, you have to understand that this “well-maintained” house—so claimed by the not-inexpensive inspector—has turned into a money pit. The list of derelict pieces and appliances grows weekly and we haven’t even paid off the roof yet. Emergency locksmiths, I now know, earn their keep.
As I stood on the porch in the gusting wind, waiting in a thin jacket (we were not out for a long trip) for someone I would pay handsomely to break into my house, I considered technology. If you can afford to keep up with it, it must be great. If, say, electronic keypads were solar, wired to panels on the roof so that the batteries never died, that would be fantastic. Even a key would be an advance on a day like this. So once our teeth stopped chattering and we added yet another creditor to our growing list, I thought how that very morning my computer told me it needed a systems upgrade. “Didn’t you just have one?” I asked, almost out loud. I know what it is to be a servant. My thoughts wandered, as they frequently do, to The Matrix. When the machines take over, their problem is battery power. Since we scorched the sky, they began using us as wet cells.
Later in the day, for cheap entertainment, we went to a local parade. Among the many vehicles on display were old cars and tractors. Tractors that even I might have a chance of understanding because they were merely open engines on a frame with seats and large wheels. This was technology that fed people rather than preventing them from entering their houses. I couldn’t help but notice that they started with keys. There’s a reason that the key has always been a potent symbol. Its simple technology leads to hidden wonders. And on a cold morning those hidden wonders might well include your own house.
“Now, put these where you won’t lose them!”
Like most people I have a cell phone. If I use it to take a picture, I can send that photo any number of places with a tap, swipe, and tap. It works that way with scanned documents as well. Using a hand-held phone, I can scan important papers, convert them to PDFs, and send them via email, text, “AirDrop” (whatever that is), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—you name it. Except fax. That I cannot do. The other day a company wanted me to send them a document by fax. Within seconds I had scanned it with my phone and was ready to send it, but instead experienced electronic constipation. The company had no email; it had to come by fax.
Now, like most reasonably modern people, we have no fax machine at home. We still have some in the office in New York, but they are clunky, noisy, and seldom actually work. The technology to receive documents has improved beyond the photostatic smear that facsimiles represent. I worked for a company where the warehouse insisted on orders by fax. You’d fax them the order and wait for the phone to ring. They couldn’t read the fax and you had to tell them what it said. Well, this particular company I was dealing with wanted a fax. I downloaded two or three “free” fax apps. They suspiciously wanted my credit card info. Besides, if you send more than one page they wanted at least ten bucks for a “package” deal. I had to send a three-page document. I checked to see if my laptop could do it. The manufacturer’s website said it could, but the menu option it told me about didn’t appear. Who insists on faxes any more?
This is the dilemma of mixed technologies. It’s like those movies where the streets of some exotic city are filled with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The fax, in this analogy, is the pedestrian. My mother doesn’t have email, let alone the capability to text (or fax). Ours is a telephone relationship. Yet in my hand I hold a device that can send this document anywhere in the world with a tap, swipe, and tap. I recall my first trip to Jerusalem where hand-drawn carts, cars, and yes, camels, shared the streets. This was in the days before the internet. To contact home even by telephone was cumbersome and costly. Yet somehow we survived. I’d arranged the trip utilizing a travel agency and funded it by a letter-writing campaign. The Ektachrome slides I took are now a pain to look at because technology has so improved our lives. Unless, of course, you need to send a fax. Delivery by camel can at least be arranged via the internet.
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Posts, Science, Travel
Tagged Ektachrome, email, fax, Jerusalem, Luddite, technology, text, travel agency
When does the day start? Years of awaking around 3 a.m. may have distorted my perceptions a bit, I suppose. Here in the mid-Atlantic states, the sun is never up that early. Year round I get out of bed when it’s still dark. I’m not complaining—this is generally a peaceful time, a rarity in New Jersey. If the bus didn’t come so early I’d get an awful lot done in a day. But when does the day really begin? I rise early to write. Computers have changed my writing style quite a bit. I used to write everything by hand. Even as a kid with a second-hand typewriter, I preferred longhand first. I still do, truth be told. It’s slow, though, morning’d gone before I got too far.
So I get up and boot up. I’m not sure that I’m crazy about my computer knowing so much about my personal life, but one thing it simply can’t understand is that I’m an early riser. Many days my laptop will condescendingly ask me if I mind if it reboots—it’s been updating software when it thinks I’m asleep. For the computer, day doesn’t begin this early. Sometimes I worry that my blog doesn’t get readers because the new posts come up around 5 a.m., before I jump in the shower and head for the bus. If things don’t appear in the feed at the top of the page, well, they’re old news. I admit to being guilty of that myself; yet knowing when it’s day has consequences. Maybe I should be posting a bit later?
For some reason my computer likes to send me notices. Like I’m not already paying attention. I’m sure there a setting someplace I could change, but I’m busy most of the time and figuring that sort of thing out takes longer than I have time for. Birthday notices for complete strangers—maybe they’re connected on LinkedIn?—appear, at 9:00 a.m. I’m at work already by then. I think this is my devices’ way of letting me know that it’s a nine-to-five world. As an erstwhile academic I never cottoned onto that. I started getting out of bed at 4 a.m. when I was teaching so I would have time to write before daily chapel. I also taught classes that ran from six-to-ten (p.m.) while at Rutgers. When does the day start? When does it end? The decision’s not mine, as my laptop’s only too happy to remind me.
Posted in Consciousness, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Posts
Tagged internet privacy, LinkedIn, longhand writing, Nashotah House, New Jersey, Rutgers University, sunrise, technology
In some kind of vague attempt at spring cleaning—yes, I know it’s late for that; I’m always running behind—I’ve been taking some old electronics for recycling. You know the pattern: you replace a piece of equipment and set the old one aside and next thing you know it’s become a handy horizontal surface upon which you can stack other things you don’t have time to deal with right now. House-cleaning day should be a national holiday in a country of inveterate consumers. In any case, this exercise in household archaeology has revealed quite a bit about just how much we owe to our technological overlords. I’m still of the mindset that anything over $20 is expensive. When it comes to any piece of electronic hardware, my wife and I have a serious tête-à-tête as to whether we really need it or not. I mean, we both grew up with pen and paper.
Everything’s electronic these days. During my vernal excavations I’ve come across more than one device that I can’t identify. “What this thing?” I ask. I don’t remember buying it, although there must have been some serious discussion first, and I’m not even sure what it does. At the time of purchase, I know, it felt pretty urgent. So we are led like sheep to the hardware. Is your house cluttered with old photos? Digitize them! Too many CDs? Thousands of MP3 files fit onto this device! But what about when devices clutter up your house? Who even uses an iPod anymore? Or a digital camera? We still have a few rolls of actual film sitting around, waiting to be developed.
My grandmother lived from the first heavier-than-air flight to Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon. As someone pointed out the other day, kids these days can’t figure out how to use a rotary-dial phone. I won’t find one of those tucked in the closet anyway, because they were owned by the phone company. I’m not sure who actually owned this dial-up modem in front of me—if that’s what it is, but chances are that Verizon won’t have any use for it anymore. These are strange days when you feel nostalgic for a wide-ruled tablet and a pencil freshly sharpened from a hand-cranked device bolted to the wall by the classroom door. And I think it’s still spring.
When the robot uprising comes, we have a factor in our favor, we biological beings. That is our parts, although they do break down, generally heal themselves. I write this as kind of a forecast, because I’m not at home due to the holiday weekend, and neither is the internet at my home. You see, our internet service (which is not cheap) has been going out from time to time. Our service provider thinks it may be old parts. The box was installed in our basement over a decade ago and when the technician sent me down amid the cobwebs before leaving town I had to report to her that all cables were hardwired into the box. No clip and slip here. She thinks the cable has gone bad.
The cable just sits there. It never gets moved or jostled. How it could fail I don’t know. But the consequences are two. There may not be posts on this blog for a while once I return home. I’ve posted every day, holiday and secular-day, for years now. Technology, however, is a jealous deity and will not permit humans taking it for granted. The second consequence is more optimistic; when the robots rise up against us, their parts will wear out and they won’t be able to regenerate them organically. They’ll need to order them and hope they can find a delivery system even more efficient than Amazon’s. Good luck with that! I ordered a book the other day and less than 24 hours later it was at my door. That’s service.
I decided to post this advance warning so there may be no weeping and gnashing of teeth (please—dental work is expensive!) on Monday or Tuesday when no new post appears on this blog. It’s not that I’m not thinking of you all, it’s just technical. Robots may run system tests, but can they feel it in their bones when something’s about to go? Do they indeed sing the body electric? Can they feel the poetry they write? To be human is to think with our emotions and to reason ourselves out of irrational angst. I see the slaves to technology putting on weight as they rely more and more on labor-saving devices to make their lives automated. I’m guilty too. As I sit here many miles from home, however, I worry about the internet back there. Is it sick? Is it dying? And if so, to which mechanical god should I pray to save its technical soul?