Ash and I went out a few days ago to exchange my faulty Palm Vx, which he bought me for my birthday but had never quite worked right... the charge lasted about a day. Now, I'm in no postision to criticise technology. In San Francisco I have Replay TV, DVD player, VCR, G4 desktop, color printer and scanner, a portable mp3 player for the gym and an mp3 server for the house. And a titanium G4 laptop is being built for me as we speak. Here in Cambridge I have TiVo, DVD player, bigass TV, and cute little ruby iMac.
I have a website, numerous email addresses, and now my Palm Pilot keeps all my dates and shopping lists for me. It's all Ashley's fault; before I met Ashley, I had never used email. I didn't own my own computer until the beginning of last year, even. Before I met Ash I had a microwave, an answering machine, a 9" tv and a stereo. I have to say, life was just fine before all this digital crap came into my life. Well, maybe except for my G4. And I'm looking forward to the titanium laptop so much that I've already named it: Slab.
There's this Dilbert strip Ash and I love so much we repeat it constantly, falling over each other laughing. Dilbert's girlfriend (didn't know he had one, but there she was) is in another room whilst Dilbert is on his computer. She calls to him, "honey?"
"Yes," he answers, absorbed.
"Sometimes I think you love that computer more than you love me."
"I do not love this computer more than I love you!" he replies, rather convincingly.
A moment passes. A thought bubble appears over Dilbert's head: "Don't ask about the laptop... Don't ask about the laptop..."
I was looking at a book about product branding today, and there was an essay by a woman who is the CEO of Reebok. She was talking about how products change our lives, or don't, versus what they claim they'll do for us. She was railing on technology, for its claim that it will change our lives for the better. I know we hear a lot about this. She said we bring home all this stuff, and we think it's going to make our lives simpler, but really it gives us all this new work and new problems which need solving.
I looked down at the exchanged Palm Pilot in the bag at my feet, and thought about how Ashley will spend hours, days -- weeks, even, in the case of the mp3 server -- making something work, some piece of software that I didn't think we needed, or some new gadget he thought looked too cool to pass up. He'll stay up all night struggling over an uncooperative wireless network, when the DSL router with wires going every direction worked fine. I wondered, after reading that quote, how many hours of snuggling in bed, having sex, or just talking we've lost to taming the technical beast. And how much we've given to tech support across the world.
All of this conversation precipitated from an article by Ray Bradbury which I read in an inflight magazine on some trip or other recently. He was talking about his fascination with futurism, basically, from childhood (as he is wont to do -- he is a very inspiring person but in every interview I've ever seen he always talks about that one World's Fair with the giant ferris wheel and how it looked like a dinosaur, and made him write the Martian Chronicles or whatever). One thing really hit home: much as I really hold little faith in the technology I've allowed to seep further and further into my personal space, I regret bitterly that I'll only be around for another 50 or 60 years.
Dammit, I want to go to space and see the outer planets up close! I want to see where medicine really does take quality of life, and if we ever do achieve world peace. I want to live for another millenium or so and see what impossible things become perfectly banal.
I am dating myself here, but I was probably 20 when fax machines became ubiquitous. Before I understood the technology, they just seemed amazing! How could they "see" a document in one place, and spit it out from thin air someplace else? Scanners were also relatively new, and I didn't understand how they worked. Hell, I was flabbergasted the first time I saw a mouse, on the Apple computer in Amber's room when we first met in 1987.
And thinking about it, the leaps in technology are always exponential: the more we learn, the more that leads us to figure out. So from cars to airplanes to rocketships to space shuttles in less than a hundred years, where will we be in another hundred? Or have we plateaued and nothing will happen for another hundred years? How long does humanity make it in the end (and how many celestial bodies do we take out with us)?
It makes me crazy that I'll never know what amazing things are held secret in the distant future.