Saturday, February 12, 2005

Poor Child of the Eighties.

There are a couple of decent interpretations to this story: one is that I’m simply and naturally an absolute idiot, which on grounds of brevity has a certain appeal. I prefer a different one, having a bit more sympathy toward the protagonist. I like to think that technology has made me stupid, so lacking in that hard-acquired, caveman and cowboy style of self-reliance, that I am abjectly unequipped to deal with its new forms and permutations.

I have a leather armchair. I like to sit and read in my leather armchair.

I am a graduate student who has heaps of obligatory reading, with attendant typewritten synopses.

I have a computer. In front of the computer is the rickety and off-balance office chair. It is not nearly as comfortable as the exquisitely broken-in leather armchair (and handsome matching ottoman). For the two weeks since, Christmas-morning-of -the-Transformers-days-like, I tore open the box to my (first) new computer, I have been sitting before it in yonder office chair, pining away for the comforts of the armchair. I can’t move the latter into the office; the arms simply wouldn’t fit under the desk. Besides, I’d just have to move it back again when I was finished, and that’s a hassle.

So, in order to reconcile my very human desire for reading comfort with my strictly academic need to have typed reading summaries, I do something so unthinkably impractical that I blush to admit it: I take handwritten notes while reading in the armchair and then painstakingly transcribe them to computer text. It’s revision, I tell myself, not redundant expenditure of time and effort.

Or at least I did. After too many days of alternating between this laborious production and the even more arduous ninnying about between two rooms to take notes on the keyboard while reading (and losing my place) in the armchair, my waning patience spurred my imagination to act. A light came on, if you will. No, that is giving too much credit. A gas lamp was held aloft in the mineshaft; a candle was carried onstage to let everyone in the audience know that it’s nighttime at the MacBeth’s. A chimp realized he could use a stalk of grass to get insects from a tree.

Allow a digression. My parents’ daft and cantankerous next door neighbor, Mrs. Ellesworth, had an even dafter dog named Alfie. Alfie entertained himself by running to and fro on his side of the chain link fence separating our two back yards, barking for hours at any and all children playing (often many) on ours. His large, implicit threat (although a Schnauzer mutt, and hence neither large nor threatening) was “if ever that fence be gone, I’ll lick the blood from your bones.” Alfie, in his advanced years, got his wish; the Ellesworths took down the decaying fence. But a funny thing happened. Instead of springing for the nearest jugular, as he’d promised lo those many years, Alfie just kept running back and forth in his little rut, as if the fence were still there. The idea that he could cross a line he’d never crossed in all his life was simply too much for his old-dog bean to fathom. If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed it.

So I thought of Alfie, after, as a 31-year-old male raised his entire life on 30-pound MacIntosh computers with twenty-odd plugs sprouting from them, I walked into my office, closed my notebook, unplugged it and moved it into the other room.

Yes, that’s right. My computer is a laptop. One would be correct in assuming it my first laptop. It weighs about seven pounds; I bought it because it was small and portable. And yet, within minutes of its being booted for the first time, it filed itself into the “desktop computer” section of my memory which, prior to that experience and with no contrary input, doubled as the “refrigerator and sofa” section of memory–the place where cumbersome, time-consuming, difficult to move things resided. It took two weeks for it to occur to me that I could quickly and easily unplug it and move it fourteen feet. I’ve since moved the plug as well to spare the battery. That took an additional eight or ten seconds.

I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve come to think of as that Celestial Epiphany, and my musings have taken on a sort of nostalgic, sympathetic bent. Perhaps it wasn’t so odd, after all, that Grandma was scared of microwaves, or that my mother still thinks of e-mail as arcane sorcery and stays far away from my father’s Mac. Perhaps the bewildered looks I get when explaining that I don’t watch TV and couldn’t tell a Backstreet Boy from a Teletubby and still do most of my music shopping in actual stores will just get more frequent and more amazed over the coming years. I am growing old and unhip, and that first, telltale sign, the inability to grasp facile uses of technologies popularized after my adulthood, has sprouted forth like a malignant growth screaming “everyone look at the old out-of-touch guy! See how he marvels at laptop computers and how small the new PS2 is!” I am, like Alfie, the proverbial silly old dog who cannot, despite his best intentions, learn new tricks.

And I’m only 31. I’ve got decades to be bewildered, awestruck, agape, awash in my own ever-increasing obsolescence. Children will point in horror at the man with the low-definition TV, the one that blathers on about cassette tapes and VHS recordings, about Friends and ER on good days–and The Empire Strikes Back on bad ones. I have vistas and horizons yet undreamt of to cross in my journey into fully accredited doddering old fooldom; I have only yet begun to fight.

So I raise a glass of beer (no hip red drinks served in a martini glass, thank you) to my fellows in the growing throng of the newly out of touch, and offer the following corruption of Marx: Alfies of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dignity. You have a world to gain.


Blogger Jason said...

Dude, seriously, that's lame. However, you'll take heart with the fact that I recently purchased a Sony Walkman. Yes, even at Best Buy they still offer one (1) version of a portable cassette player. I told myself I was buying it because it is easier/cheaper to find foreign language instruction on cassette, but I've found myself listening to bad mix tapes from my childhood (how did I ever think the Violent Femmes were THAT good?) because it's all I still own on that format. You should see the looks I get on the Metro when I whip out my cassette player. Screw the yuppies and their I-pods, I'm keepin' it re-ahl. You look like you could be, the Mother of a Girl...

Mon Feb 14, 08:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Dublin Saab said...

Half way through I was wondering why you didn't just take the laptop into the front room. While you may be behind the curve on tech knowledge I'm certain you can tell the difference between a Backstreet Boy and a Teletubby. The Backstreet Boy is the one that looks "gay".

Mon Feb 14, 12:02:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Claudia said...

If it makes you feel any better, in the past two weeks I have failed TWICE to tape something from TV on my VCR. Once I taped the wrong channel, and once I didn't tape at all.

Mon Feb 14, 02:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Giant Bladder said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Feb 23, 10:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Giant Bladder said...

A more amusing story about Alfie:

I delivered newspapers to the Ellsworth household for years. Every morning I threw the newspaper at the front door as hard as I could. This caused the dog to run to said door to see what made the noise. Now this was a fairly common arrangement for the newspaper delivery boy and all the dogs on the route. What made Alfie special was that every morning Alfie was stopped by running his head into the inside of the door. Since it was the house next door I started my route each morning to this little audio play: step step step, fling, bang, arf, arf, arf, scamper, scamper, scamper, WHAM! giggle, giggle, giggle

I miss that dog.

Wed Feb 23, 10:44:00 PM EST  

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