Saturday, March 2, 2013

What Hath God Wrought

I think it may be true that the only times I've found to post for quite a while have been holidays. I might have thought that I was inspired by the holiday, but more likely it was simply that I had the time.

This time I'm posting because I took a rare day off from work due to illness. Not the dread flu, which was all over the airwaves, if not in the air, but an ordinary cold which was compounded by the peculiar overwork I suffer.

It's not that I'm taking sick time to write. What I actually did was to take time at the end of being unable to move this past Friday to buy a new computer. And hence the occasion to write, maybe just a little bit like a holiday. Whee, a computer which actually works!

I'm more than a little bit embarrassed about how much time I've spent on this purchase. It started with a desperate attempt to find a way to keep using the old and even originally very cheap little laptop which has been my only such tool for maybe four years. You may recall, gentle reader, that I did hang on to my old VW until it had at least 330 thousand American miles (and my sister still drives it). I still regret letting go, although praise be to the gods of technology, the new one was cheaper and slicker and had all the bells and whistles (plus bluetooth!!) for no extra trim-package!

Bizarrely, since Microsoft was offering an upgrade for a price I couldn't resist, an installation of Windows 8 gave the old machine a new-ish lease on life. This is perverse in the arena of technology, but true for reasons I could but won't bore you about just now. Anyhow, something about the attractive nuisance of a touch screen, combined with inevitable thrashing-hangups on the old one and the fact that I have new plans to return to school rationalized a new computer. Passive voice.

And of course I want excuse to try it out! [sic]

Meantime, being sick, I also started reading What Hath God Wrought as recommended by a friend. Typically for me I have a few books open (virtually, since they are largely on Kindles these days) at the same time; the other one being Visions of Technology (come to think of it, this is a paper book, literally open) which is a great reminder that all the things technological that we obsess about these days have been obsessed about throughout most of the previous - that's the twentieth - century.

So I'm just beginning the book about the period between the Spanish-American war and the Civil War, which focuses on the communications revolution which characterizes that time-frame. Together with the other book, it makes a pretty good reminder that as excited as we might be about the supposed technological revolutions we currently enjoy or suffer - depending on point of view - there isn't much very revolutionary about them. At least not on the scale of the truly revolutionary new technologies of the nineteenth century.

We are, you know, still stuck in the old metaphors of speed and action at a distance and bulk transfer of text. Only the speed and volume have changed, which is a very bad thing if you are, as I am, concerned about global warming.

Somewhere recently I was reminded - I truly don't think I'd learned if for the first time, though there was apparently something new about it - that insects and birds and even cats find their way across the globe in unfamiliar territory by means of the stars and the earth's magnetic field-profile. So that this is programmed in, as we like to say, to the DNA.

Well sure, right? Somehow these critters must learn to migrate with the seasons, and there are enough of them and they breed quickly enough that they can internalize the patterns of survival right into their collective being, given that the patterns in the world about don't fluctuate too awfully fast. (One must wonder, for the stars, what happens with light and other forms of pollution, and with the magnetic field, about the grid)

We once were better wired-in to the environment ourselves, I'm sure. But that the written word detached us. Downloaded into consciousness those things we once knew with certainty because we didn't have to - nay (!!) couldn't - think of them.

There is nothing now we can't (and won't) think of!

Which is precisely how we're blinded. The revolution taking place now, beneath our consciousness as it were, is the dawning realization that we are not discreet thinking entities at all, but rather participants in a global consciousness of written records. We will, we shall, submerge, and once again align ourselves with stars and magnetic fields. Collectively, you know?

 . . . because the barriers of identity between us will and must and have already started to dissolve. We have forgotten how to remember, we have no need to calculate, we can consult our smartphones to keep our dates and revive our references.

But these technologies upon which we so very much depend are the last gasp of the nineteenth century revolution. The one about to envelop us (I almost said 'descend upon us!') is about identity or its absence. We are as one, no matter how hard we try to distinguish ourselves. No matter how hard we try to preserve that sense of freedom embodied by the automobile (or absurdly in California, the lane-splitting motorcycle) and that sense of individual isolation. It's gone.

I do declare!

Well, back to my reading. It looks as though this new communications device is a keeper.

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