The Advent of Analog Man (in a Digital World)

Ground Hog Day 2009

After casually observing David’s futile attempt to decipher the mysteries of the television remote control, pushing button after button in unsuccessful attempts to change channels and adjust the sound on Miss Mary’s complex, multiplex mega-system, Uncle Bubbel was heard to mutter under his breath as he got up from his comfy chair, shaking his head as he left the room, “Day-vit, you really jes’ a analog man in a digital worl’, ain’tcha.”

I suppose.

Do you recall the Luddites - those 19th century British Isle cottage-industry wool weavers, who, when threatened by the advent of the Industrial Revolution and steam-powered looms, rioted, breaking into the newly constructed factories, violently smashing the demon looms in their futile hope of stopping progress dead in its tracks, thus ensuring that their old way of life would continue unsullied for generations?

They failed. Miserably. And progress has been marching steadily onward ever since - "same as it ever was!"

I’m not a Luddite, but will accept that I am somewhat ‘old school’ at best and a curmudgeon at worst. However, Uncle Bubbel’s less than candid observation (though frequently pointless and porous as a sieve) may hold a modicum of truth in this particular instance.

I prefer the slower, more evolutionary pace of the analog world over the frenetic pace of the mostly ‘sense’-less, virtual world. To paraphrase writer Michael Ventura, “Sure, you can take a pretty good "virtual tour" of, say, Rome on your computer. But can you smell the traffic, taste the food, have a pigeon shit on your head?” I don’t know about that last part, but I question whether our brains and biology can adapt as quickly as technology seems to be forcing us to. I’ve found that shiny-new digital devices (henceforth referred to as DD’s) like cell phones, notebook computers and other screen-faced thingies, while hyped as dynamic, time-saving contrivences that promise to make me more connected, cool & hip, and my life way more convenient, efficient (and FUN?) seem to have missed their mark on me. And they also possess a darker, potentially more insidious Shadow side. I’ll try to explain.

My observation is that the impact of the DD’s on anyone older than Generation-X paradoxically brings about opposite qualities to which they are purported to provide. Take, for example, ‘text-messaging’. Is it not dehumanizing and devoid of any soul-satisfying connection? Does that even matter? Texting, with all its speed and truncated abbreviations, clearly lacks the richness and depth of the spoken word, not to mention the total absence of the unconscious communication transmitted by facial expressions and body language. We see folks walking (and - gasp! - driving!) around entranced, pushing the miniature buttons on their cell phones and staring at the tiny screens with hypnotic intention as they key-in what I suspect is mostly banal stuff to others who respond with equal banality - “Jimmy is so hot. w8! OMG! lol UR2cool”. Is this ‘communication’ really all that urgent that it requires one’s immediate attention, so much that you are temporarily disconnected from your present environment, and perhaps driving over the sidewalk or into my lane?
4 all I know, I’m betting that texting ain’t going away any 2 soon.

I wonder about the long-range impact ‘virtual life’ might have upon the nature of human relationships as they become electronically abbreviated, compressed at warp speed into digital bytes. What becomes of relationships founded and maintained in digital constructs of time? Are ‘speed dating’ events and websites such as eHarmony and that seek to digitally hook people up - fast!!! - becoming the preferred way to meet your mate? What’s the hurry? Do we not, in fact, exist in real time? Doesn’t it take a protracted amount of real time to actually get to know another, not the illusion of who he or she may have portrayed themselves to be online? (Don’t get me started about the implications and ramifications this has upon the concept of identity as I have experienced the consternation and woe of ‘identity theft’ firsthand). I suppose it will be interesting to see how this all evolves. Over the course of real time.

Have you ever actually read the manual(s) that come packaged with your cell phone, computer software, camera or palm pilot (a device, I am told, that is nearly obsolete already)? Do you feel like an idiot trying to decipher this alien gibberish? I do. The time it takes to wade through that techno-speak, attempting to grasp the thousands of functions I’ll never use (nor did I want) seems to use up quite a chunk of that ‘convenient’ time for friends, family and fun that I’m supposed to have saved by employing said DD. I’ve found that I require ready access to an adolescent kid (or other such learned techno-geek wizard) to bail me out of the electronic morass in which I inevitably find myself whenever I try to traverse the great digital divide.

Denied access to such a geek, my second preference is the calming presence of a sweet psychiatric nurse who will pick up my pulverized pixels, soothe my shattered synapses and remind me to breathe before I rip that DD from its cute little ‘docking station’ and heave it through a plate glass window or from a swiftly moving vehicle.

I don’t think I’m the only one younger than Methusalah who feels this way. But I do think I’m becoming vastly outnumbered as our culture continues to careen wildly down the binary ‘information highway’, gathering up spiraling sequences of “0”s and “1”s. I also wonder if, like the dinosaurs, I am headed for extinction? Short Answer: Yes. Does everything in life have to have a screen attached to it? It's getting to be so. Hasn’t human evolution been thus far a slow process as we’ve crawled from the primordial ooze? And don’t we all likely know some folks (excluding you and me, of course) who haven’t evolved terribly far from the cave as it is? Yes, and yes. Touch-screens ain’t gonna help them.

All this having been said, I’ll begrudgingly admit that there are a small number of DD’s that have gradually entered my life as if by osmosis. I present a few of them to you now, along with what I’ve coined their ‘analog antidotes’ (or AA’s) - ways that I have found to keep me (somewhat) sane. Maybe you’ll find them useful. If not, just hit the ‘delete’ button and go back to your regularly scheduled program.

Microwave: (While not exactly ‘digital’, I think of the microwave and its kissin’-cousins, the X-ray and laser beams, as pretty close relatives to the computer.) Listen, this thing just messes with your time-continuum construct. I’m an advocate of the ‘slow food’ movement and microwaves just have no business there - can’t make a nice roast or bake a delicious cake in two minutes now can you? I don’t trust food items marketed as “just heat in your microwave” – they just can’t be too good for me. I prefer to use my woodstove for cooking in the winter - I make great soup, hot tea, even fry up some bacon & eggs on it. It’s especially handy when the power goes out. I can also dry my laundry and warm-up my boots near the woodstove…try that with your microwave. I’ve not devolved far enough back to use the woodstove in the summer. But I might.

Palm Pilot: I don’t have one of these, but I do have two palms and a Pilot pen. I often write phone numbers and reminders to myself with my Pilot on my palms. Works fine and I’ve yet to have the urge to fling either of my ‘palm pilots’ from an open window or stomp them to bits.

UPDATE: 2010 - Palm pilot nearly obsolete - replaced by tiny, desiccated laptop computers called "notebooks".

Cell phone: I have one. Miss Mary got it for me. It does all kinds of things, like takes photos and movies, reminds me to buy cat food. It can alert me to all sorts of stuff with its array of tinny, digital sounds. I’ve not figured out how to use these features. Yes, it is capable of text-messaging, but as you’ve probably surmised, I am not. I go to movies, I don’t make them - why would I want to watch a movie made with a telephone? My cat, with incessant yowling, already reminds me to buy food – don’t need a phone for that. If I want to write to somebody, I write a letter – with real words! OMG! LOL! I was considering disconnecting my land-line phone (this is a relatively new term: ‘land-line’ – as opposed to what, my ‘sea-line’, my ‘space-travel-line’?), but I am not ready to do this. What cords would I then have to trip over? I’ll admit, the cell phone IS handy when I’m lost on the road (despite being a man, I sometimes do ask for directions) or will be delayed (need just one more cuppa coffee or/and a pit-stop). The problem is sometimes there’s no cell service, the buttons are always too small and I usually can’t see the damn screen. I’ve "fat-fingered" or "pocket-dialed" my way into more than one wrong number and frustrating situation. I often want to throw the damn cell phone. My next cell phone should be made of rubber. You know why.

GPS Device: Nope, don’t have one. They seem pretty handy, if not a bit bossy at times. I might actually get one someday…if they stop making maps. For the most part, I usually know where I am and where I’m going. For the times I don’t, I have my compass…and maps. Reading a compass is a lost art and deciphering maps is for treasure-hunters and aliens. I love to look at maps and often do so recreationally. I am an alien. I usually orient myself somewhat by locating the sun (though not terribly reliable at night, and while the stars are lovely to look at, they are still just holes in the sky to me). I had a kid riding with me once who asked, “What’s that thing stuck on your dashboard?” It was my compass. “Cool!” he said. I think so too.

UPDATE: 2010 - I bought a GPS. Found a good one on sale for $79. It sits like a tiny TV on my dashboard and it's pretty cool in figuring things out like where to find a restaurant (often needed) or hospital (thankfully not needed). I like it, except sometimes it falls on the floor

Computer: AKA ‘The Devil On My Desk’: I didn’t use or own one for YEARS! Then someone decided, rather than taking it to the dump, to give me an early-90s vintage Macintosh with a monitor as large as a Volkswagen. I used this green-glowing freak for a typewriter until about five years ago when Miss Mary - truly a hip and adventurous electronic Gadget-Girl - dragged me kicking and screaming into the 20th century by presenting me with a dandy new, powerful iMac! Until recently, I used it simply for a typewriter. (I can type much faster than I can write – my handwriting simulates prehistoric runes - and being left-handed I always smudge the ink dragging my hand across the page). I live in the woods (in more ways than one apparently) and there was no high-speed internet service available. I hooked the iMac up to my dial-up telephone service. The time it took to send or retrieve information with dial-up was, well, underwhelming. I could have written a letter and had the US Postal Service (or the Pony Express for that matter!) deliver it considerably faster. And despite the wonders of Google, I could have looked up whatever it was that I was researching quicker in an encyclopedia. That is, if I still owned an encyclopedia. It was replaced by Brittanica-on-a-disc that gives me byte-sized mini-morsels of semi-useful information. Why didn't I just go to my local library? Do you see how my relationship to time has been challenged, mutated with the introduction of this damn computer in my life? Nonetheless, I've slowly accepted that computers are here to stay and can be useful beyond the scope of typewriting. Besides, you can hardly find a decent typewriter anymore.
I am truly amazed at how much smarter my computer is than me. For instance, it knows what I want before I do and tries to help me get it, like: pharmaceuticals without a prescription (now what's Uncle Bootsie gonna do for a living?); a larger penis (and all this time I was buying into small-is-beautiful!); bigger boobs (missed the boat on that one, Bubby!); and tons of cash from my old friend, the exiled Nigerian prince - all I have to do is send him my bank account numbers (and the $150.00 'processing fee') so he can safely deposit the princely sum directly into my account! My computer wants me to unconditionally trust it and then blindly leap into the virtual void with it. But I did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday and I know what's happening; I remain content to crawl along the slow lane of the information-highway. And I’ll use my own maps and compass, thank you very much.

UPDATE: 2010 - Still have my iMac, but it's pissing me off. It regularly reminds me that my "browser" (what is this, really?) is obsolete and needs to be updated. When I attempt to do this, I am told my "operating system" won't allow further updating. Attempts to see if my OS (got jargon?) can be updated/modified lead me to conclude that it would be easier and more beneficial to get a new computer! Five years old and ready for the boneyard!

Guitars: Nothing but genuine, wooden acoustic guitars in these hands. They’re warmer, more natural, and they help me create the music and sounds I love. They don't have screens. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of electric guitars (I even own, but rarely play, a Fender Strat) and they surely have earned their place in rock ‘n roll heaven. But remember, I’m an analog man. I guess I’d say the difference is sort of like choosing to spend a comfortable moment sitting in the sun at the beach or along a shady, peaceful country lane, enjoying the view from a perch upon a dune or an old log, refreshing drink in hand - or attempting to do the same from atop an electric fence. Both have their pros and cons, I guess.

UPDATE: 2010 - I have a new guitar (see "Sometimes a Guitar is Just a Guitar" in this very journal). It is not wooden. It is 100% carbon fibre. And...I love it!

Camera (See Cell Phone): I bought a 4-pixel one a few years ago for just under $400. I guess that's around $100 per pixel? It’s pretty cool and does way more than I’ll ever understand. It’ll take 3-minute movies - perfect for those with ADHD and the attention-span of a gnat. But I am struggling with yet another Owner’s Manual, and have to look at my photos on a computer screen without the satisfaction of holding a print in my hands or creating an album book. I’m told I can do all this, but I’ll have to translate more digital mumbo-jumbo and buy a decent printer. I have a program called Photoshop on my iMac, too. It can do crazy-wild things to photos. I may even learn to use it, but not today.

UPDATE: 2010 - Miss Mary just got a new Canon camera with 12 pixels, a 4" viewing screen, a 12x zoom lens that shoots 10 minute movies for $179. And it's half the size of mine, which I thought was pretty small - about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

Motor vehicles: It would be nice to be able to live and work in a community where there was adequate public transportation, or you could walk or ride your bike wherever you wanted to go. Maybe like they do in Italy or Ireland? But I don’t live there. I need a car, and my car is way more digital than I’d like. I used to be able to work on my own vehicles with the wrenches and screwdrivers I already owned. And if I couldn’t, it was a snap to find someone who could. Not so today. The car needs to be hooked up to a computer to analyze and diagnose it. I do not want psychotherapy for my car; I just want to be able to repair it without having to shell out $90+ an hour for an ‘automotive technical specialist’ - formerly known as a ‘mechanic’ - to do so. That’s why I also own and ride a 1968 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. It’s loud, fun, economical and I can usually fix it myself. At over 40 years of age, the 'cycle remains quite sexy, while I do not. (See photo below)

Clocks: Uh-huh, clocks. I prefer a wind-up kind. They can be difficult to find today, but I still have my Dad’s watch that I wear sometimes. I have a couple of wind-up pocket watches that I use when I’m feeling particularly anachronistic. Unfortunately, I’ve had to resort to wearing those cheap, battery-powered timepieces because I’m pretty hard on watches and don’t want to ruin Dad’s vintage Bulova. Too bad I can’t wear a sun dial. Unless I'm gigging, I don't usually need to know what time it is at night. If it's dark, it's bedtime.
I have an LED alarm clock by my bed. Auspiciously quiet most of the time, I know that it surreptitiously lies in wait - bright, red LED lights innocuously glowing - to propel me disquietingly from my repose with its tinny beeping and an unwanted blast of adrenaline. I’d prefer my grandfather’s wind-up alarm clock (circa 1910) with its comforting, measured ‘tick-tock’ and real, analog chime; but it is old and tired and loses time.
Like anyone else we know?
I guess I like the ritual of winding things up, and now I am getting wound up. Let’s not overlook the problem with programming those digital clocks: How many times do you push which miniature button in what sequence to set what function? Quick, refer to the handy manual - Oh, sorry, it’s been translated from Mandarin into Pidgin by a demented orangutan and sense strangely no makes. I’d much rather twist-a-knob or flick-a-lever. Tactile. Intuitive. Easy. So why do I have the LED alarm clock? Just masochistic, I guess.

Boat: I have a small sailboat. I don’t think there’s a digital sailboat, and if there is, I don’t want to know. Perhaps my greatest antidote to the digital world, my sailboat is seventeen feet of pure, aquatic pleasure – combined with wind & sun, it is like liquid Valium.
It quietly asks that you seek balance, the perfect harmony that is achieved when wind, sail and hull are in synchronized calibration, rewarding you with an exhilarating run over the bounding main. The old ‘even-keel’ thing. It requires focus and concentration, often short commodities in our high-speed culture. Without focus and concentration, things can go horribly wrong really fast. I could tell you some stories…
With sailing, you can’t always simply go directly from Point A to Point B. Sometimes you have to tack back and forth, working with the wind towards your destination. It takes time. Analog-time, not digital-time. It lends great appreciation for the navigational skills of the ancient mariners like Magellan, Columbus, Hudson, et al. My son, in many ways a chip off the ol’ analog block, is still much more a micro-chip man than me - he just cannot fathom why I sail. “You can’t ski or tube behind a sailboat!” Nope. And while I might occasionally race the craft, he finds such events as exciting as digging for worms or watching paint dry. “Is this all you do?” I was asked as one fine day we were making a particularly long tack. Yes, it is. I like it that way. Now, walk the plank!

Television: I once had a TV. I got three channels. After I found myself lost in a mindless stupor, reciting from memory the same script of a “King of Queens” re-run I’d seen four times, it dawned on me that I really needed to be practicing my guitar. Or reading…washing my windows…knitting a couch. Anything! The next weekend, I took the TV to the dump. That was nearly five years ago. I haven’t missed it, and my guitar playing has vastly improved.
A good friend who felt sorry for me because I had nothing on which to view a movie (I go to the movies, remember?) gave me a discarded, though perfectly good, tiny Sony TV that had once taken up residence in his daughter’s college dorm room. Not entirely ungrateful, I hooked it up. I still got only three channels and “The King of Queens” was still showing re-runs. I was afraid to watch it.
Then in November ’08, just before the presidential election, my life changed. BIG time! The Cable came to my street and, well - I got ‘wired’! I now have high-speed internet on my computer, thus catapulting me, eight years late, into the 21st century in all its high-tech digital splendor. I’ve gone crazy, losing HOURS researching stuff, designing my website, emailing…I even created a mySpace music page. WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING TO ME?
But, in order to receive this high-speed internet service, I had to subscribe to a cable-TV package. So, Tiny Sony and I got the minimal package with - whoa! - twenty-four channels! For a few weeks, I was addicted. I watched all the Obama drama - election and inauguration. I watched NatGeo, PBS, CNN, the Weather Channel, NESN (I usually hate sports!). I even watched never-before-seen-by-the-likes-of-me shows like Fox News (I can't BELIEVE they BELIEVE that sh*t!), Dr. Phil ("Hows that workin' for ya?") and Family Guy (I find Stewie & Brian the dog particularly hilarious). While aimlessly surfing, I wiped-out onto some crazy, voyeuristic ‘reality show’ - on a channel called 'Oxygen' - with the seductive moniker "Bad Girls Club". This little gem tracked the seemingly endless, mindless and seamy misadventures of a house-full of cheap sluts FOR CRISSAKES! Did I mention mindless? I sure as hell don't know what kind of 'Oxygen' they're breathing. Probably carbon monoxide.
I found myself staying up really late creating darker circles under my eyes. My guitar-finger calluses began to soften. I feared that I was going to need a 12-Step group.
Once again, I unplugged the TV. So far, so good.
But wait! I hear prices are really coming down and they're practically giving away cool 42” flat-screens at WallMart that would work perfectly in my living room.

UPDATE: 2010 - I did it. I bought a flat-screen TV. A Sharp 32" HD (hi-def, mon!) that fits perfectly for my size room. It's going to be a long winter and I wanted to see some movies - that 12" screen really did suck - so I poked around, seeking a deal. Found one. My TV was a demo without a box or remote control, marked down from $549 to $318. I asked the clerk if that was the best he could do? Took it down to $279. I had $75 Gift Card that I applied to the purchase, so I got this unit for $204. I am proud of myself. I actually get more channels now, many in HD, but I don't understand why. It doesn't really matter, though. I still don't watch much TV. And I have picked up some pretty good movies from my local library...for free!

So, am I a Luddite? No! I am Analog Man In A Digital World! If you’ll please excuse me, I am going to put on my Analog Man cape, toss another log in the stove, make some tea and get back to practicing my acoustic guitar. Hope to see you at a show sometime.

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