Appeared in Business in Vancouver – August 13, 2013
Haven’t touched the typewriter since old schoolmate Unca Billy died in May. Huh? Typewriter? I write letters to friends on mine – gives it exercise. Most readers haven’t used one for decades. Some never. I once gave my youngest son a fine vintage Underwood. He politely returned it. Said he wouldn’t know how to use it.
Well, I’m not writing this with a quill pen. But the Internet’s virtues are its vices. It’s sabotaged by the heirs of medieval pickpockets and market-day bumpkin-scammers, “all-licens’d fools” (Shakespeare’s phrase), pornographers and pedophiles whose odious products may well be on their way to legalization – anything that can be retailed will be retailed when moral confusion reigns. It’s the tool of anonymous slander and instant ignorance, abetting fabricated facts and phony public opinion – note the humiliation of pollsters in the provincial election. And these are technologically primitive days. The hydra-head of hackers sprouts too rapidly to be cut off. The privacy of the individual, business and state is breached. The distinction muddies between patriot and traitor, upholder and whistle blower. I have a hearty recommendation for a techie job at al-Quaida headquarters. Name’s Edward Snowden.
Chaos begets control. Common sense, often fortunately proven wrong, concludes that “rescue” by an all-powerful dictator lies ahead, a Big Brother promising a return to order and simplicity – for “good” reasons, as always trumpeted. Some day, maybe not all that distant, dissenters will be punished by taking away their technology and leaving them alone in the cybernetic desert. Where is George Orwell when we …? But enough of my jollity. Now the jollity of heavy thinkers. In a recent Times Literary Supplement scholar N.J. Enfield muses that people have always transformed their environment, and at amazing speed, but now “we can hardly keep up with ourselves. … Technology enhances our potential, but it also introduces dark affordances, dangers we wouldn’t otherwise face.” Enfield quotes Giles Slade, author of The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness (published by Prometheus), that people-isolating devices, the usual i-suspects, are “prosthetic substitutes for human company.” We knew that, but rarely so well expressed.
A comfort of sorts: Enfield muses that the book – an earlier technological game-changer (as they say) – also “is no more natural to human communication than a chat room or a Twitter feed; maybe less so.” The decline in schmoozing face-to-face with our fellow man and woman is therefore nothing new, and, come to think of it, not all bad. I have many fellow citizens I gladly keep at bay.
But back to musings on the dystopian future: Enfield quotes Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist, whose book Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the e-Personality (Norton) proposes that Internet technology is making the physical body almost obsolete, creating a new kind of self that’s not all that nice, “convinced of its specialness, alternately dark and infantile.” Which may not sound new, just like the stereotypical teenager.
But, threatening future aside, what about current irritations? Here a gnawing personal complaint: Buy a toaster and it comes with elaborate instructions. Buy a computer and you get no operating manual whatever, with 70-odd mysterious logos – “Greek” – bordering the screen. Internet servers like Google and Telus arrogantly update formats without notice or explanation. Thus the expanding geekocracy, a hierarchy of high-priest e-bullies lording over e-serfs whose every “unacceptable” idea will one day be monitored by the Thought Police. Nobody ever hacked my Underwood.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013