New Year's Eve 2009: Good Times, Good Times
I recently finished spending nearly an entire week rebuilding my iTunes library, which for some reason had reverted back to a previous library, effectively relegating thousands of music and movie files to some sad electronic limbo, unavailable to my iPod. It was a mess, a time consuming and aggravating mess.
Last night, driving home from the Most Muted New Year's Eve Celebration Ever, traffic on State Highway 290 suddenly, inexplicably seized. What was the cause of the slowdown? Had some holiday revelers crashed their automobile? Had the local constabulary established a drunk driver checkpoint? Had The Rapture occurred, causing the now-driverless vehicles formerly operated by devout Southern Baptists to careen across lanes and into the paths of others, sending the Unsaved to an early rendezvous with their brimstone-ridden Eternity?
No, it was a dude in a cream-colored Corsica, who'd slowed down to thirty while attempting to text message. I got a good look at Joe Texter as we passed: neck tattooed, head shaved and goateed, his face twisted in lumpen concentration, one eye on the little glowing screen, one eye on the road, his simian fingers mashing the keyboard as he unsteadily steered with his elbows, his foot intermittently tapping the brake in a sort of spastic Morse Code. I can well imagine the text: "Whr da Prty? Gt 2 prtay lk it 1999! Boo-yah!" He wasn't involved in negotiating a Middle East peace, or guiding some poor woman through delivering her own baby, or sending Kevin Sumlin the secret he needs to make the University of Houston defense less porous against the run. No, this was just another cementhead, looking for just another opportunity to polish off a few brain cells.
We are slaves to technology. We need it for information, for entertainment. It is our friend, our confessor, our one true companion. Two days ago, I met with a new customer at his home. The meeting should have taken ten minutes. It took closer to an hour, largely because he excused himself no less than four times to take cell phone calls. Twice he responded to text messages, WHILE I WAS TALKING WITH HIM. I could have told him that the chemicals we were using to treat his swimming pool were extracted from the adrenal glands of adolescent pygmy elephants and he would have nodded his head and said, "Gotcha," because the texts had totally transfixed him (As best as I can tell, they were from his wife, who was asking him what he wanted for lunch. She showed up as I left. He'd opted for Wendy's.) This guy wasn't an advisor to President Obama, or a in-demand cardiologist; he was an oil field worker, a nice guy, a friendly guy, but hardly the Linchpin of Western Civilzation. Like the Corsica Texter, he possessed technology, and by gum, he was going to use it, no matter how trivial the application, no matter how much it inconvenienced or (in the texting while driving instance) endangered others.
I'm not important enough to text message. It's more technology than my life justifies. In other ways, I have a love-hate relationship with technology. The obsessive compiler of stuff in me covets the Kindle and its ability to store 1500 books. The proud and rational Luddite in me knows that nothing is easier or more spiritually satisfying that holding and reading a real book. I have more than 9000 songs in my iPod, one for every conceivable mood, moment or emotion. The ones I listen to with any frequency could all fit on a single Maxell cassette tape.
This would be a good time to introduce an observation of my own invention. I call it The Law of Technological Homeostasis, which states that for every minute you save because of the convenience of an electronic device, you lose ninety seconds repairing system malfunctions or wasting time on some activity that doesn't really matter. You know that garage where Hewlitt and Packard supposedly invented the first computer? The earth should have opened up and swallowed it whole, and saved us all a load of frustration.
Three decades ago, Solzhenitsyn complained that the West was a place where people were enslaved by their own avarice: shackled by chains of gold, they congratulated one another on their beautiful necklaces. Today we are slaves to technology, slaves to electronic acquisition, slaves to a tsunami of information. The chains are still there, we are still comfortably shackled. Only now they are invisible: we've all gone wireless.