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Machines Sense My Fear

Stop me before I lash out in self-defense.

Stop me before I lash out in self-defense.

Each new wave of digital device takes an extreme disliking to me.

It seems to be axiomatic that the older people get, the harder it is for them to make changes. The old ways were better. This newfangled stuff will ruin civilization, or at least the part which isn’t already ruined. I try to avoid this — not in an attempt to end the aging process, but in order to keep my brain active so I can continue to work.

Some of the inventions of the last 25 years or so I enjoy, including the personal computer — although there I have my grievances. You see, I’m one of those people that only has to touch an electronic gadget to have it stop its inner workings immediately. When I touch a button on, say, the entertainment centre on a plane, it packs in — often taking other passengers nearby with it. I have a lifetime aversion to electric instruments. In fact, they frighten me because I’m sure they will either electrocute or nuke me. The machine in question feels my trepidation and retaliates accordingly.

Era before ‘automatic save’

My early encounters with a PC were nightmarish. I would finish an editorial and before I could save it (there was no automatic save in 1981) the computer would “lock,” and after frantic calls to experts, I would have to crash it and lose everything. Or I would have slippery fingers, accidentally telling it to print 100 copies instead of 10 — and then I would fail to stop the damned printer. David Chalk and Mike Agerbo (two people who I got started in radio, incidentally) would be like the doctors on call, and I would insist they did house calls.

Eventually as PCs and I matured, we became tentative friends.

When the fax came along, despite the fact that I felt the need for a lead jockstrap to prevent that area from being nuked, I adjusted.

Internet, loved and hated

Then came the Internet. I liked it and the e-mails it spawned. It was great stuff. I could submit manuscripts in a minute or less, while a fax would take an indefinite amount of time depending on whether the fax machine burst into flames, or got jammed, or both. I was delighted — I was acclimatized to the new, and work was easier.

The Internet was, however, a bit of a mixed blessing in that it hugely expanded your ability to research but the downside was that editors would no longer accept “back in the forties” and insisted on the correct date. Research was easier, but the research demand increased. All in all, though, it was a “good thing.”

Before going on, let me say that the iPod is indeed a magnificent development because it lets you listen to the music you want to without tiresome interruptions.

In 1985, while doing the midnight show on CKNW, I interviewed a BC Tel guy about something called a cell phone. I couldn’t see how this would work. While it might be fun calling people from the loo as you were reading that day’s racing form, what about having to put up with calls you didn’t want? What was going to happen to your privacy? Early on, I was fishing with a buddy and his pocket started to ring! “What the hell is that, Derrick? Do you mean that even with a wilderness lake, a hatch of mayflies and just the right fly on your line — a scenario that anyone with a soul want to savour — you’d let the moment be shattered by someone who wants to sell you a car, fill your Viagra requirements or seek your latest political opinions?!” How can anything be urgent enough to interfere with long-awaited idyllic moments?

The cell phone became an infestation and an epidemic of community nuisance. The jingle had replaced the ring so that quiet little bits of earlobe nibbling over a bottle of Merlot were shattered by “Mary Had A Little Lamb” from the booth next door. Soon there was a cacophony of conflicting jingles answered by people who obviously assumed that the person on the other end was hard-of-hearing.

Or, you would go to the theatre and no matter how earnest the pleas from the master of ceremonies that the audience turn off their cell phones off, the high point of the performance was invariably punctuated by a kazoo screeching “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” I’ve found the perfect solution. I have a cell phone, but no one knows the number — not even me — so I can make a nuisance of myself without fear of retaliation.

A universe of screens

Then came the Blackberry — surely one invention too far. “But,” you are told, “you can get your e-mails from anywhere in the world and respond to them immediately!”

That’s a good thing? The world has become a seething mass of screens covered in shorthand that’s tapped out with thumbs. Can it be that far off where every fourth note of a piece of music will be sent with the recipient required to fill in the blanks?

Are we sure that the when world economy crashed at the same time the Blackberry arrived it was a coincidence?

What happened to peace, quiet and solitude? Are we all making more money because we can talk incessantly with one another 24 hours a day? Are we happier? Social issues have arisen, such as: Is it considered bad form to turn one’s Blackberry off during sexual frolics? Are we permitted any free time? Will we reach the point where thousands stand on window cells of tall buildings, and after texting the police and the local TV station, shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” before ending it all?

Just because one is old and grumpy doesn’t mean that he’s wrong to observe that every minute we’re getting more and more in each other’s face and turning one another into frenetic fools bound together by bubbling babble that can’t be turned off — only intensified.

I don’t want to return to the “good old days” — I just want a little peace and quiet.

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