DIGITAL AHAB

It’s not surprising that those who grew up playing with computers seem to trust and even love them as adults. They’ve happily integrated computers into every aspect of their lives – from the workplace to their refrigerators – and routinely accomplish astonishing things with them. And because they’ve developed an intuitive sense for how information can be manipulated on a computer screen, this integration is almost cyborg-like in its seamlessness. So, as the physical world increasingly disappears into the screaming vortex of the digital, it’s become very clear that The Future belongs to them. The question is, what does that leave for those of us who grew up playing with Lincoln Logs and Hula Hoops?

I’ve always hated computers because, like many Lincoln Loggers, I know them for what they are— inflexible bureaucrats of the worst kind: Select the wrong item in a dropdown menu, and you’re toast. Forget to capitalize one letter in a 16-character password, you’re burnt toast.

They’re the sneering clerk at the DMV who, ignoring your cascading tears of despair, informs you in an emotionless monotone that your third attempt at filling out Form OH-478 was successful; however, it’s been replaced by the OH-478/A, which must be filled out in triplicate, notarized, and witnessed by six Cambodians.

They’re the cold-eyed teller who declined your deposit because you reversed the last two digits of your account number. And as bank guards and men with butterfly nets dragged you out, you shouted, “If dyslexics ever line up to deposit money in my account, you Einsteins better let them!”

And now that everyone carries a little computer with them everywhere they go, I feel like a wretched Captain Ahab who woke one day to find his ship crewed entirely by small white whales.

And yet people love them. They’re so convenient, they say.

Too convenient, I say.

I recently took a college class and watched in astonishment as the students around me surfed the Web on their laptops. They were on Facespace, news sites, and shopping for everything imaginable. It was so bad that occasionally the professor announced, “Okay, stop surfing. This is important.” A few managed to slowly raise their heads, but they were soon bored and drifted back to the comfy confines of the World Wide Web.

And when people are forced to wait even a few minutes for anything, they whip out their smartphones faster than Billy the Kid pulled his six-shooter. Every waiting area looks like a roomful of impatient monks bowing their heads in silent prayer to tiny, rectangular, glowing gods.

But computers finally beat me.

This year, our employee evaluation software refused to cooperate with me. Desperate to appear at least somewhat competent, I spent a frantic half hour struggling to submit my self-evaluation form, but everything I tried lured me down one digital blind alley after another. Finally, my young boss came by and asked how the form was coming.

“Oh, I just happen to be looking at that,” I replied airily, “but I’m a little stuck.”

He reached over my shoulder, clicked on something, and instantly submitted my form.

Staggered by the brute power of Darwinian forces, I gulped loudly. He smiled down at me in the same hopeless way Sister Paula did while she was laboring to teach me long division.

I’m thinking about wearing a beanie with a propeller on it for the rest of my life.

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