Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Technologies, Old and New

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about technology on any given day, but during the past 24 hours, I've thought about it more than usual. I spent time photocopying, a technology that still seems miraculous to me--and now, many of us can afford a small, home copying machine (in the form of our printers, which can print scanned documents, or our printer-copier-scanner-fax machines that many of us have).

Then I went to my book club, which celebrates an older technology. We're all still reading the books we choose on paper. We discussed Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, a book which wrestles with the eclipsing of various technologies, especially in the music business, and it presents the first successful short story told in PowerPoint format. We meet in a classroom, and towards the end of our meeting, students started to arrive for one of our member's classes. It was great to watch them watching us talking about books. By then, we had started talking about Justin Cronin's The Passage. Vampires, the end of the world, disease! Several students started taking notes.

I came home and prepared some poetry packets for my fall mailing. How many years have I greeted fall by sending out my poems in envelopes with stamps? Many, many years. But this year, I'm just as likely to send them electronically. It's a shift; we seem to have reached a turning point where more journals accept electronic submissions than don't.

We realized later in the evening that we needed some cash for the yard guy. I hate going to ATMs at night, so we went to the grocery store, where we could pick up some groceries and write a check and get change. How many years has it been since I wrote a check for actual goods that I bought, goods right there in front of me in front of a cash register? Sure, I'll purchase my electricity that way. But a check for groceries? Years, if not decades.

While in the grocery store, my spouse had a hankering for Kool-Aid, which led us to the powdered drink aisle--or the powdered drink section of the prepared drink (but not soda pop) aisle. We had exactly 4 choices, all rather mundane: cherry, grape, lemonaid, and tropical punch. What happened to the Sparkleberry Punch flavor? We bought 5 packets for a dollar, which may be overpriced for citric acid, I'm not sure. It still seems cheap to me. We're probably the only people in the tri-county area still mixing up our own Kool-aid and making our own iced tea, the way our moms did, and their moms before them.

This morning, I noticed that I'm not the only one thinking about technology. At The New York Times, there's a great essay written by a man who went to a Buddhist retreat where he spent 5 hours meditating and 5 hours walking each day. He returned home to observe his brain wrestling with technology: "So there you go: covetousness, schadenfreude, anxiety, dread, and on and on. It’s the frequent fruitlessness of such feelings that the Buddha is said to have pondered after he unplugged from the social grid of his day — that is, the people he lived around — and wandered off to reckon with the human predicament. Maybe his time off the grid gave him enough critical distance from these emotions to discover his formula for liberation from them. In any event, it’s because the underlying emotions haven’t changed, and because the grid conveys and elicits them with such power, that his formula holds appeal for many people even, and perhaps especially, today."

And at the same website, the ever-wonderful William Gibson weighs in on visions of the world envisioned by older sci-fi and the reality of Google: "Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species."

We live in interesting times, as we watch technologies seem to eclipse each other and then sometimes, technology comes swooping back to reclaim a piece of territory. We wrestle with new technology's impact on our attention span, just as humanity has always wrestled with issues of attention, intention, and efficiency.

What will today bring? Before I get too enswamped in modern technology, maybe I'll read a poem or two. Maybe several times. Sandy has a great post on reading a manuscript and thinking about how she should change her approach to reading volumes of poetry. Maybe I'll adopt her strategy for a single poem. Maybe I'll choose one poem each week and spend each day reading that same poem several times. An interesting Fall resolution . . .

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