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And the Lights Went Out: Over-reliance and The Possiblity of Losing Our 21st century technology
In the lab where I work as a student assistant, my boss is a photographer. I mean that in every sense of the word. MFA student, practitioner of alternate processes, uses multiple large format cameras etc. While he explores all formats, he prefers to shoot film above else and his passion is making prints. He focuses his art on the object and the final actual physical print. It's what brings him the most pleasure to create.

I'll get back to this later. (I promise it will tie in. Haha.)

Flashback to my sophomore year of college. I was taking a literature class where, although the Powerpoint slides were uploaded on the internet, I was simultaneously copying them down by hand onto my notebook. I did not think much about this. The only reason I did it was because it was an inconvenience to take my laptop to class. After the semester  ended, my computer died and I lost all of the slides from the class. Being young and quite immature, I was not in the practice of regularly backing up my data. I lost all of slides, essays information on Romantic, Victorian and 20th century literature and was a very sad person. One day while moping over my loss, I stumbled upon my notebook and discovered that I had all of the slides copied down by hand!

An epiphany resulted. One that I have been contemplating ever since. It was not really the expected "back-up your stuff!" type of realization. It was something deeper.

Around the time that this happened, I over-heard my boss talking about his photographic processes and his focus on the object. Reflecting back on how I had lost my data in my crash, I tied the two events together and realized not just how convenient this is, but how much value it is as well. I started to look at things differently and finally understood my boss' philosophy. At my job, I work and handle physical historical documents centuries old and the tangibility of them is something unsurpassed. I have held in my hands a centuries old copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and the feeling and energy in that book is something I cannot describe.

Since that day, I have made a point to write down everything. If I write something on the computer, I back it up of course, but I also print it out. I have a small black note-book where I write down my verses, and I have printed copies of all of my poems that I carry with me constantly. They are the most cherished thing I have, and If my computer crashes and I lose everything, I still have the original idea.

But as I said, I couldn't help but think more about this. I now have a natural tendency to cherish things that are tangible and made by hand. Even though I am proficient in Photoshop, I still try to draw by hand. Even though I am an excellent typist, I make a point to practice my handwriting. I also prefer to read books rather than online (no matter how much time I spend online, heh). Why? If I one day am without a computer, I'll know how to be productive as well as entertain myself.

But I also thought about the bigger picture. Amazon just rolled out their Cloud service, so you can now access your library from any mobile device or device that has an internet connection. (Minus the Kindle, I think.) There's the iTunes store, online repositories, and online storage, and wifi, and bluetooth, and digital archiving and digital libraries. All wonderful technologies for reliability and access that are for sure going to continue developing into the future. Not only that, but consider how telegrams are obsolete and landlines in private homes are getting rarer and rarer. Then there's the whole digital cable/digital TV thing. All conveniences.

But what if one day, we couldn't use them?

Case in point: one day at our house we suffered a strange blackout. The electricity went out. No internet or TV. But along with that, neither three of the cell phones in the house (Verizon and T-Mobile) had a signal. Pushing aside what might have caused this, in order to communicate with someone to see if they were having the same problem, we had to get in a car and drive.

I had already had my epiphany and this is something that resonated in me. We argue the durability of technology and how things are safer and can never be lost, but what if something did happen? We are so technologically advanced, but will this advancement ruin us should something happen? (Of course, this is barring the people who live in the country or backwoods or who choose to live without much reliance technology except a phone.)

For those of you who have read Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, this should sound familiar. In the end of a natural disaster that wipes out all of our modern conveniences, we are forced to become primal and venture out for food and survival. (This also brings up the survival shows on TV that show you how to survive on your own with raw materials.)

I may be going off tangent here. Am I talking about losing modern conveniences (electricity and such) or  21st century technology? (Internet, wireless etc.) Well, I'm not sure if one can talk about losing one without losing the other. (Someone enlighten me on this, please.) I have gone from talking about art to society, which might not be surprising. What I'm trying to get at is the value of the object. A Photoshop masterpiece or a digital photo versus a stone statue or a photo that has been developed into a print. One can be lost if you pull the plug, the other requires actual physical destruction. The points is not that they can both be lost, but the lengths to destroy it.

As a little side thought, it makes me think of toys: When I go to an Apple-store I see 2-5 year olds playing games on computers and I immediately flashback to playing with Hotwheels, Barbies, Playdoh, Legos and coloring books. Even as an adult, though I delight in the occasional first person shooter, I love my metal-cast brainteasers and Legos. (This starts a different conversation about imagination and the value of playing with tangible objects, if anyone wants to start it or has done so already.)

This post may be a little fatalistic, but it's something that travels with me when I see my/our reliance on technology. Yes, it has happened in prior generations with prior technology, but now that technology is growing at an incredible pace, it's unavoidable. I once told my mom, if something should happen that you can't reach me by phone or computer, that she should await my letter in the mail by way of horse-drawn mail carriage.
I have this friend who makes most things. It's just what he does. Designs things he needs. Bookbags, bikes, clothes. Last I saw him he was making knives. His goal is that every material in his life that's at all important to him should be built by his own hands. Eventually he's set on building his house.

It's kind of awesome. So rarely we meet people like that these days. I know maybe 3 other people like him (though he takes it to the extreme. How do you make knives?)

I agree that we are over-dependent on a technological modality of existence that is less stable than we believe. Just look at Haiti or Japan and you'll remember that there is no assurance about the continued safety of our built systems. I think it's important that we be fatalistic about things like this. I remember there was the black out in New York like 8 years ago (I watched it on the news from far away) and it was like the world ended. What if something like that lasted for more than a day? What if it meant people my age couldn't log on to facebook or twitter? What would they do? Play hopscotch? Tic - tac - toe. We're even dependent on the technology for our leisure.

Something I've noticed in myself lately and is something I sincerely want to curb, is my obsession with email. It's awful. I have it open in the other tab right now. When it's not up or when I haven't checked it for awhile I notice in myself a building anxiety and right before I log on I have these minute minute freak outs. It's almost like a real addiction. Were we as an entire culture to all of a sudden be forced into a zero-21st century technology zone no doubt there would be a period of societal withdrawal.

In response to Mark Opal
That is amazing that he knows how to make knives. I think it's beautiful when anyone knows how to make something by hand that they put all of their effort into.  

I had forgotten about the New York blackout, but I do remember when it happened. Everything was chaos. You're right: I've seen people freak out when Facebook or Twitter goes down for a few hours, and I personally freak out when Youtube goes down. 

Skip ahead to 7:50 for the twitter bit.

My personal favorite part is 8:35: 

"What's that?" 

"A book."

I decided my post was too unrelated to the topic that I should start a new topic for it: Writing Vs. Abstract thinking.
I'm leaving the following post here as I think it also pertains to this topic.

Our times are very strange-with all the information that is stored virtually everywhere. I was struck by the huge gap between this current situation and a description I'm just reading at the moment in Arendt's “Life of the mind,” where she describes Plato's objections to the written word, though I will just add that this passage refers specifically to writing philosophy :

For there is no way of putting these things in words like other things that one can learn. Hence, no one who possesses the true faculty of thinking (nous), and therefore knows the weakness of words, will ever risk framing thoughts in discourse, let alone fix them in so inflexible a from as that of written letters...”

...“There is first the fact that writing “will implant forgetfulness”; relying on the written word, men “cease to exercise memory.” There is second the written word's “majestic silence”; it can neither give account of itself nor answer questions. Third, it cannot choose whom to address, falls into wrong hands, and “drifts all over the place”; ill treated and abused, it is unable to defend itself ; the best one can say for it is to call it a harmless “pastime,” collecting “a store of refreshment... against the day 'when oblivious age come' or a “recreation [indulged in] as others regale themselves with drinking parties and the like.”

Of course, Plato was the one writing down Socrates thoughts, and Arendt is writing down her thoughts, which is what I'm reading- but both are thinking of the relation of thought and writing.

It is similar in music, listening to music in one's head is very different from playing it. For example, when I listen to Chopin's Nocturne op. 37 no. 1, I hear the middle part as a choral sang by a choir of men. I don't quite get that effect with the piano, it is difficult to catch that specific color that one finds in one's head.

It is extreme and might not be directly connected to the current subject, but I find it nevertheless interesting to bring here and reflect on. How would we live in a world where things are ephemeral ? Where everything is stored in the mind?

I believe one should carefully move and explore the possibilities between those two extremes and see the advantages each brings into one's life, and make accordingly a conscious decision on how to moderate or indulge in one's reliance on writing and other moderns ways through which technology extends our writing possibilities (photographs, videos, etc.)
Books Discussed
The Life of the Mind (Combined 2 Volumes in 1) (Vols 1&2)
by Hannah Arendt

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Latest Post: April 26, 2011 at 4:02 AM
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