Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The New Luddite

I freely admit it: I am a technological luddite.

This is not an illogical position for someone who is over 50, raised in those long ago gone days of dial phones, 30-cents-per-gallon premium gasoline, and three channels viewed on a snowy black-and-white Motorola.

Trouble is, I'm also a network system administrator, responsible for implementing new technologies. I get to play with wonderful new toys all the time, and, in fact, I actually like it. I am, in the memorable lyrics of King Crimson, the Twenty-first Century Schizoid Man. I probably should be in therapy.

I just happen to think that there's a place for everything. Microwave ovens, personal computers, and satellite TV are proper wonders of our time. Cell phones, computer watches, Palm Pilots, and their kin, on the other hand, are spawn of the devil. I'm sure the difference is obvious, but I will endeavor to explain in case it isn't. Cell phones, which are the real ring leaders of the evil technologies, and their kin all have one thing in common: The ability to reach anyone just about anywhere at any time.

I just don’t feel the need to be so connected.

Oh, sure, some people have to be on call for emergencies, and it's good to be able to reach out and touch someone if the buggy breaks down. But really, do we need to be able to read e-mail at the beach? Do we have to get weather reports on our wrist rather than look out a window? Is it really necessary to be able to call from the store to find out if we need grape jelly? Well, okay, I've done that one, but it wasn't really necessary, as my wife who was trying to take a shower will attest.

We just don't need to be this in touch. It's become part of the culture to say people lead such busy lives that don't have time to do anything, which makes you wonder what their actually doing. I mean if they don't have time to do anything, they must be doing something, but what is it? One of those really stupid hair restoration commercials (I know, “stupid” and “commercial” is almost a redundancy) has a guy saying his “busy schedule” doesn't allow him to apply some sort of goo several times a week. The poor guy must find it difficult to schedule any personal hygiene at all.

A coworker of mine finally decided he could take a vacation cruise with his wife. Since he is one of the most gotta-be-connected people I know, it promised to be interesting to see how he could cope with being miles from shore, without cable modem, without DSL, without even a wireless connection. Well, it seems that I was wrong about that last one, since I received an e-mail from him from the cruise ship. Whatever happened to post cards? As it turned out, the rates charged for ship-to-shore Internet access were sufficiently dear that common sense kicked in after a couple of messages.

In fact, that's one of the other things wrong with all this “in touch” necessity. It's bloody expensive. Every service costs. Ten bucks here, ten bucks there, and you're paying a couple of hundred a month so you can be annoyed at any hour of the day or night. I'll bet the guys who sell these services turn off their cell phones every night.

Other devices are designed simply to suck money out of our pockets. MP3 players and iPods are the prime examples. Download songs for $.99? Fine. The recording company has put zip dollars into producing and distributing media, but they charge you as if you were getting the whole banana. Get the latest storm warnings from the Weather Channel on your watch? Great, but you can get them free from a radio. Pay for the latest headlines? Haven't you ever heard of CNN?

All right, I'm a cheapskate, but I still don't think I should have to pay or overpay, as the case may be, for things that were once free, or least cheaper.

The original Luddites smashed weaving machines trying to protect their livelihoods. Pleasant as the thought is, we can't go crushing phones, Palms or Blackberries every time one goes off in an inappropriate place.. So, I just wage my own little campaign of looking with pity at the person showing off their latest privacy-destroying or money-sucking toy. It confuses them. Of course, then they think I need therapy. But I know better (insert Renfield maniacal laugh here).

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