An Aging Luddite

I work online, and I think online writing classes work at least as well as face to face teaching. I love technology and gadgets too, even though they are too often tainted by consumerism. I am not certain of the source, but someone left this Douglas Adams quote as a comment on my site recently:

First we thought the PC was a calculator.  Then we found out how to turn numbers into letters with ASCII — and we thought it was a typewriter.  Then we discovered graphics, and we thought it was a television.  With the World Wide Web, we’ve realized it’s a brochure.

I went on short trip last weekend to Meramec Caverns— my GPS is the greatest thing since sliced bread on these trips–and I was struck, once again, by the image of people waving their cell phones around in the air, trying to get what we euphemistically call “service.”

I understand the impulse. The motel and the campground that surrounds the caverns is old-fashioned and doesn’t have internet connection. (Many modern campsites do.)  I don’t use my cellphone much, and as long as there’s television of some sort, I’m fine. I felt that little twinge of anxiety, though, knowing that I couldn’t call anyone if I got lonely.

What’s making me feel more and more like a Luddite, though, is the sheer ubiquity of people– almost all of them under 40, and most under 30, who seem so helpless addicted to nothing. I enjoy Facebook, to cite this year’s model as an example, but there’s no there there;  you look at a picture or two,  or maybe follow a link someone shared, laugh at a video, and then you are done.

Why is the brochure is so compelling that it requires almost constant attention, almost as if it were a pet or a child? I don’t believe that this is generational. When I was young, say, a teenager, I loved rock and roll music, but I was also aware that some people went too far with it and became fanatics. It was embarrassing at best, at worst dysfunctional. This fanaticism about the latest trend has become the norm.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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