Have computers really transformed our lives for the better? Hard to tell. Long distance communication and word processing have certainly advanced, but since most people don’t engage in creative thought, we’ve embodied the empty promise of cable television – hundreds of channels but nothing’s on.
Computer domination started in business then crept into our social lives, and now we are reduced to slathering idiots who press the “like” button when shown a picture of a cute kitten. This degrading transformation is so recent there’s nothing to compare it to, except maybe the onslaught of radio, motion pictures and then television.
I wrote my graduate thesis on a typewriter. For a long time when I was trying to make it as an actor, my day job was typing for lawyers. I remember when the first computers came in, they ran word star, which meant you had to memorize all sorts of clumsy commands in order to do word processing. I then learned UNIX in order to the same, on bigger, networked computers. I was thirty-eight years old when I bought my first VCR and fifty five when I bought my first cell phone.
Blaise Pascal said “most of man’s problems can be traced to the inability to sit alone, quietly in a room.” The older I get, the more I think he’s right. Currently, I have a phone, but no service, as I’m not sure I’m going to stay in this country long enough to justify buying another SIMM chip. By the way, in most of the rest of the world, any cell phone can be used to access wireless service, and all you have to do is buy a SIMM chip for a few dollars and then add minutes at any kiosk. It’s a brilliant system, and if you don’t use the phone much, as I don’t, cell phone service can cost less than five dollars a month. Of course the reason we don’t have it in the states is because the cell phone companies lobbied congress to allow them to dictate the possible terms of service.
By not carrying a phone with me, I spent less of my brain CPU waiting for or responding to calls. If I need to talk to someone, I’ll find a phone, but that rarely happens, maybe less than once a day. This lack of interruption gives me the opportunity to sometimes be lost in thought, or just daydreaming. This is what Thoreau called appreciating “the bliss of the present moment.”
Here, in South America, people seem to enjoy cacophony more than I do. Today I was eating in nice restaurant, but they had a television in every room, and even though no one was watching it, ithe one in my room was playing a comedy program with the volume was up loud. There were at least three televisions blaring away in the various rooms of this restaurant, and then, near the cash register, a radio was playing loudly.
I got the feeling they considered this chaos a gift to their customers. Yikes!