Archive for December 18, 2009

“Me Write Pretty One Day” about Kazakhstan

For a Christmas present I was given a book by an American teaching colleague, he knew I needed something to read over our winter break.  The following is an excerpt from “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris (p. 142-148). Published in 2000, it was a New York Times #1 National Bestseller. Unfortunately, Sedaris’ book after only ten years is already dated concerning what he writes about computers. In this particular chapter, it is definitely pre-9/11.  Still, I found it amusing and you might too.  In some cases, I have encountered people who share Sedaris’ views about computers.

“It was my father’s dream that one day the people of the world would be connected to one another through a network of blocky, refrigerator computers, much like those he was helping develop at IBM.  He envisioned families of the future gathered around their mammoth terminals, ordering groceries and paying their taxes from the comfort of their own homes…

Call me naïve, but I seem to have underestimated the universal desire to sit in a hard plastic chair and stare at a screen until your eyes cross.  My father saw it coming, but this was a future that took me completely by surprise.  There were no computers in my high school, and the first two times I attempted college, people were still counting on their fingers and removing their shoes when the numbers got above ten.  I wasn’t really aware of computers until the mid-1980s…

Due to my general aversion to machines and a few pronounced episodes of screaming, I was labeled a technophobe, a term that ranks fairly low on my scale of fightin’ words.  The word phobic has its place when properly used, but lately it’s been declawed by the pompous insistence that most animosity is based upon fear rather than loathing.  No credit is given for distinguishing between these two very different emotions.  I fear snakes.  I hate computers.  My hatred is entrenched, and I nourish it daily.  I’m comfortable with it, and no community outreach program will change my mind.

I hate computers for getting their own section in the New York Times and for lengthening commercials with the mention of a Web site address.  Who really wants to find out more about Proctor and Gamble?  Just buy the toothpaste or laundry detergent, and get on with it.  I hate them for creating the word org and I hate them for e-mail, which isn’t real mail but a variation of the pointless notes people used to pass in class.

I hate computers for replacing the card catalog in the New York Public Library and I hate the way they’ve invaded the movies.  I’m not talking about their contribution to the world of special effects.  I have nothing against a well-defined mutant or full-scale alien invasion—that’s good technology.  I’m talking about their actual presence in any given movie.  They’ve become like horses in a western—they may not be the main focus, but everybody seems to have one.  Each tiresome new thriller includes a scene in which the hero, trapped by some version of the enemy, runs for his desk in a desperate race against time.  Music swells and droplets of sweat rain down onto the keyboard as he sits at his laptop, frantically pawing for answers.  It might be different if he were flagging down a passing car or trying to phone for help, but typing, in and of itself, is not an inherently dramatic activity.

I hate computers for any number of reasons, but I despise them most for what they’ve done to my friend the typewriter.  In a democratic country you’d think there would be room for both of them, but computers won’t rest until I’m making ribbons from torn shirts and brewing Wite-Out in my bathtub.  Their goal is to place the IBM Selectric II beside the feather quill and chisel in the museum of antiquated writing implements.  They’re power hungry, and someone needs to stop them.

When told I’m like the guy still pining for his eight-track tapes, I say, “You have eight tracks? Where?” In reality I know nothing about them, yet I feel it’s important to express some solidarity with others who have had the rug pulled out from beneath them.  I don’t care if it can count words or rearrange paragraphs at the push of a button, I don’t want a computer.  Unlike the faint scurry raised by fingers against a plastic computer keyboard, the smack and clatter of a typewriter suggests that you’re actually building something.  At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.

When forced to leave my house for an extended period of time, I take my typewriter with me, and together we endure the wretchedness of passing through the X-ray scanner.  The laptops roll merrily down the belt, while I’m instructed to stand aside and open my bag.  To me it seems like a normal enough thing to be carrying, but the typewriter’s declining popularity arouses suspicion and I wind up eliciting the sort of reaction one might expect when traveling with a cannon.

“It’s a typewriter,” I say. “You use it to write angry letters to airport authorities.”

The keys are then slapped and pounded, and I’m forced to explain that if you want the words to appear, you first have to plug it in and insert a sheet of paper.

The goons shake their heads and tell me I really should be using a computer.  That’s their job, to stand around in an ill-fitting uniform and tell you how you should lead your life.  I’m told the exact same thing later in the evening when the bellhop knocks on my hotel door.  The people whose televisions I can hear have complained about my typing, and he has come to make me stop.  To hear him talk, you’d think I’d been playing the kettledrum.  In the great scheme of things, the typewriter is not nearly as loud as he makes it out to be, but there’s no use arguing with him.  “You know,” he says, “you really should be using a computer.”

You have to wonder where you’ve gone wrong when twice a day you’re offered writing advice from men in funny hats.  The harder I’m pressured to use a computer, the harder I resist.  One by one, all of my friends have deserted me and fled to the dark side.  “How can I write you if you don’t have an e-mail address?” they ask…

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