As far back as 1890, Mark Twain sent out this Christmas message:
It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us-the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage-may-eventually be gathered together in heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss-except the inventor of the telephone.
I have more or less come to terms with my land line. (“What’s that?”) I’m pretty good at sorting out the fakers and phishers who make up most of my calls. (“We’re canceling your Amazon account because [Click]” and “Your account with Apple [Click].”) One just has to be hyper skeptical with all robocalls and perhaps a majority of live callers.
But there is something about the cell phone which makes it irritating in the extreme:
It’s ridiculously expensive
It turns most callers in public places into boors
Particularly with the smart phone, it is dangerously distracting—particularly on the road
Too many parking spaces are occupied by idiots fingering their smart phones
Everyone assumes you have one
The screens are so tiny that, past a certain age, one can’t view them comfortably
What passes for a keyboard with cell phones is a sick joke
Today, I couldn’t get into my personal accounting system on QuickBooks Online because Intuit decided I had to change my password. To prove that I am me, they sent a code to my cell phone. I couldn’t view the code because the first text message on my system was corrupted, so I had to restore factory settings and destroy all five text messages. (No problem, that.)
People occasionally call me on my cell phone, but I never answer calls because most of them are in Chinese; so I would rather keep my cell shut off except when I have to place an emergency call. (That’s the only good thing about cell phones.)
Sorry about the rant. Why do I get the feeling with most technical innovations that they are one step forward and two steps back?
Since the beginning of quarantine, I had only been Downtown once. It wasn’t pleasant because I couldn’t find anywhere to eat, and unless I went to Union Station, there were no restrooms around. Today I decided to go again, mainly to return three books to the Central Library. Although they were not technically due until next month, I thought that as I had finished reading them, I might as well take them back.
Also, I put a hold on three more books which I could pick up at the front of the library once I had been e-mailed that they were available. That would be a big plus, even though I still miss sitting down in the literature section for a few hours reading.
Afterwards, I stopped at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring Streets. Last time I went, it had been closed due to the coronavirus. Now it was open, but they did one thing that I liked. Before the virus, the place was crawling with young pseudosophisticates who didn’t care about the books, but took hundreds of pictures with their smart phones to document their spavined lifestyles. Now one has to pay five dollars for admission, which is refunded from the price of books purchased.
I can just imagine it now: What? I have to buy books? Reading is so lame compared to the wonders of my smartphone.
It presented no obstacle to me: I bought five paperbacks. They included three Dave Robicheaux mysteries by James Lee Burke, André Gide’s If It Die, and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the Fool.
As soon as I receive notification that my books are being held for me at the Central Library, I’ll make another trip downtown. And I will likely drop in at the Last Bookstore.
The MEMFOTY is a new annual award given to the person I deem as the Most Evil Mo-Fo of the Year. It is with great pleasure that the first recipient will be Mark Zuckerface, the nation’s only android CEO (of BergBook). He has resolutely attempted to destroy oncoming generations of humans by replacing human interaction with synthetic digital equivalents.
It takes no major effort to see millennials and Gen Z addicts going through life slightly stooped with smart phones held in front of them. Instead of looking up and being aware of their surroundings, Addicts are involved in interacting with phantom “friends” and issuing “Likes”—but not “Dislikes”—to simulacra of interpersonal communications.
The Net Result of Addiction to Social Media Like BergBook
I fully expect that, in future years, social media will be blamed for much of the turmoil of our era. We will have to wait for the children of this generation to react against social media.
This post grew out of a conversation between my brother Dan and me. He noted that I tended to distance myself from anything that smacked of the popular and acceptable. Agreeing with him, I thought I would formulate my somewhat strange philosophy of life. Distilled down to its essence, it is to at all times avoid bragging rights—across the board—and avoid the endless search for prestige, wealth, and everything in their train. This is the second part in a series.
They’re everywhere. People are actually surprised when I tell them I don’t have one. All I have is a flip phone which I never answer because most calls I receive on it are robocalls in Mandarin Chinese. So my cell phone is always turned off and used only for emergencies. Being always available to receive phone calls makes me feel more like a slave than someone in control. I would rather be aware of my surroundings than checking my e-mail several hundred times a day. (In fact, more than 90% of the e-mail on my computer is trying to sell me stuff.)
Eating Take-Out All the Time Is Not My Idea of Fun
Food Delivery Services
Not showing up in person is now considered the height of cool. That applies to restaurants, but also to other food delivery services such as those sponsored by supermarket chains and recipe of the week services like Blue Apron. My former neighbors in the apartment below used to receive a Blue Apron box every Tuesday—and for the rest of the week, we smelled the same identical food smells.
At Ralph’s Supermarkets, where I do most of my grocery shopping, there are legions of young people employed in shopping for others. Would I trust a young person who doesn’t know how to cook to select my meat and produce for me? Not on your life! My mother was raised on a Hungarian farm. As the oldest child, I learned at her side how to shop, especially for produce. I know how to tell male from female eggplants, and I’m surprisingly good at picking sweet watermelons with thin rinds.
The Guardian Ka for the Afterlife of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen
There has been a major exhibit of treasures from King Tut’s tomb at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. The exhibit started in March and is ending in a few days, so I decided I had better hustle if I didn’t want to miss my second chance at one of the world’s great archeological treasures. (I missed my first opportunity some years back.)
In the end, it was not a pleasant experience. The exhibit was well mounted, but it was mobbed with family groups who were intent on SmartPhone snapshots of everything on exhibit. It was as if instead of people with minds attending the exhibition, the attendees were actually digital devices. No one understood what was being photographed: They were merely putting together a portfolio that could be used to demonstrate to friends that, yes, they had been in the presence. The children were mostly bored and acting up.
In the end, I seriously suggested that, at the entrance to the exhibit, all SmartPhones be collected and smashed to smithereens with mauls. That got a few laughs from the museum staff, but I seriously doubt they acted on my well-intentioned comments.
Although I have been interested in Pre-Columbian archeology for many years, I know very little about Egypt under the Pharaohs. I know I have Howard Carter’s book somewhere in my library about his discovery of King Tut’s tomb, as well as a few other volumes on the general subject, I have been extremely remiss. Resolved: After I return from Central America at the end of the month, I will try to catch up on the subject.
And that is my only New Year’s Resolution for 2019.
You Can Bet a Lot of Gamers and Smartphone Junkies Are Looking Forward to This
I am not looking forward to this, but the younger generation is, I firmly believe. I am referring to the merging of human beings with implanted electronics to create a new supposedly super race of human beings. You can see it in the mass acceptance of such dorky millenialia as e-scooters and Uber. This generation is so wedded to the smartphone that I believe it is inevitable that what today is a device carried in the hand will eventually be an implant. Then one will not have to worry about dropping your invaluable device in the toilet or gutter, leaving one completely at a loss on what to do and how to communicate with one’s fellow beings.
There is an old computer joke about people who die being escorted by Satan to Hell and finding it to be a refreshing place with green trees, splashing fountains, and unending sex. Naturally, they agree with enthusiasm to be admitted. Imagine their dismay when, instead of all the promised perquisites, they find fire, sulfurous fumes, and brimstone—not to mention fierce demons armed with spears and pitchforks.
“Why is this so different from what you showed us at first?” one of them asks with dismay.
“Oh, well,” winks Satan. “That was the demo.”
As one who has been involved in computing for over half a century, I can foresee with crystalline clarity what will happen. Naturally, there will be bugs. And you will wait endlessly to speak to a tech rep named Chip with a thick Gujarati accent when the software has malfunctioned. And it will. Why? Because we are not perfect. Ever since the beginning, technology gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
Looking for the advancement of the human race? No, but welcome to Malfunction Junction.
As I predicted, the heat wave I described a couple of days ago has persisted, despite the lies and blandishments of several so-called weathermen. To escape the heat, I spent time reading and lunching at the Westfield Mall in Culver City, followed by movies at the Cinemark at the nearby Howard Hughes Center. Yesterday, it was Whitney, which I described in yesterday’s post. Today, I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Meh!)
Being in the midst of so many people, I was appalled to see that people escaping the heat at the air-conditioned mall depended on their smart phones for entertainment. I was probably the only one of hundreds of people at the mall who had a book. Two or three old men were reading newspapers. And hoards of others were playing games on their smartphones, checking their social media, and other utterly useless tasks. Children were using electronic devices that emitted the usual treacly bibblety-bobbledy-boop sounds of programs oriented for the young.
In addition to my book, I read an article in the July 9 and 16 issue of The New Yorker Magazine entitled “No More Secrets” by Adrian Chen. It was about an IRL (“In Real Life”) streamer named Paul Denino, who styles himself as Ice Poseidon. Imagine living your life hooked up to video equipment that captures your life from minute to minute. On YouTube, I saw a number of video clips from Ice Poseidon’s oeuvre and was thrown for a loss. Ice Poseidon’s life was not really life, but a series of situations in which the Streamer (or Screamer?) and his retinue got into various boring scrapes and liberally dropped f-bombs along the way. If that were my life, I would set about ending it in some dark corner far from the nearest video camera.
All these video devices were intended to enhance life. Instead, they have created a kind of empty simulacrum of life. I keep thinking of the little boy I saw yesterday staring into space while the video game on his tablet kept emitting nonsensical noises to which no one paid any heed.
Once I saw a website somewhere about all the devices that smart phones will render obsolete. On the list were e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook. I do not believe, however, that people with smart phones will be reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (in seven volumes) anytime soon. I do not even think that they will be reading many shorter books, such as 10 Haikus for the Next Millennium.
Just because you can read books on a smart phone does not mean that you will ever want to. There are four reasons for this:
You can only see so many words on a page. Excessive page-turning will render the reading experience too clumsy.
If your device is backlit, it will bother your eyes to read for any length of time. E-book readers like Nook and Kindles use a technology that does not glare at you.
People past a certain age (and I am already there) have trouble reading words on small screens.
Smart phones are so small that the reading experience is psychologically different from cradling a physical book in your hands.
I remember when Gutenberg and other websites put the complete texts of thousands of books online. In the last ten years, I have succeeded in reading only one book online: Sir Richard F. Burton’s Falconry in the Valley of the Indus. It is a relatively short book, and I can tell you it was a real chore, what with the glareback from my monitor. I believe this may also be a problem on iPads and other pad devices.
Over the years, I have long suspected that those people staring at their cellphone screens while walking are probably not reading Moby Dick.
There appear to be two types of people. A distressingly large number of younger people appear to be hooked up to a sound feed consisting of the dominant sound icons of current popular culture. Whenever I hear snippets of other people’s music, I feel chagrined. When I am attached to an MP3 player, say during a long flight to South America, what I listen to are the symphonies of Sibelius, Mahler, and Bruckner. (I may diversify into some Jazz classics when I get around to copying them.)
But pop music and rap music? Not for me. When driving, I like music that serves as a background to an increased situational awareness, not as a replacement for my consciousness.
Today, I rode the Expo Line into Santa Monica. Virtually everyone under a certain age was hooked up, listening to pop music and operating their smart phones at full intensity. Needless to say, these people were living in their own self-imposed bubbles, not looking out the window or paying attention to the announcements.
The other type of person is someone like me. I live in the world, not in a self-imposed bubble.My dumb phone does not have Internet access, nor is used for texting or sexting, nor even photography (though it has the capability). The only reason I had it with me was in case I needed to call Martine about our lunch plans.
Is there any advantage to living in the pop culture bubble? Perhaps it’s a form of escape from the world, with all its confusing signals that are so insistent for our attention. But is this escape not dangerous? And can a diet of Taylor Swift or hip-hop music dull one’s senses to the world around us? I imagine it’s a way to introducing oneself to peers, indicating that one is cool … one is attached to the good stuff … one is wearing the right clothes … has the right hairstyle … is, in a word, safe.
Maybe I’m a bit dangerous. At least I would like to think so.
It all started in 2016 with an app called OmegApp, available simultaneously for the Android and iPhones. It was inevitable that a program like this would eventually make an appearance. Smart phone callers were running out of people to call, or even text. What OmegApp provided was a robotic interface that appeared to deeply care for anyone who communicated with it. The name of the interface was Tag. If you called Tag, Tag would reciprocate and call you back later, with occasional text messages stroking your ego in the meantime. (Tag’s ultimate message? “You’re IT!”)
Soon, the majority of all cell phone calls and texts were handled by the OmegApp system, which operated on five continents in over sixty languages. Before long, people would distractedly wander the streets with that sh*t-eating grin demonstrating that they were, in fact, wanted and needed by somebody (or something).
Of course, it had an immediately catastrophic effect on traffic—pedestrian, bicycle, and motorized.
In Cleveland, the Dotes twins, Mairzy and Doezy, were struck head-on by the 56A bus as it barreled down East 177th Street. Both the driver and the victims were on Tag at the time. In Santa Monica, a distracted little Lambsy Divey walked off the bluff overlooking the Coast Highway and ended up being run over half a dozen cars, all of whose drivers were texting on Tag.
One would think that there would be an outcry. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. The phone companies were making more money than ever, and those Tag users who didn’t end up a casualty felt happier than before. In fact, talking to Tag was more satisfying than sex and raising a family. In all probability, this may be curtains for the human race: Only the deaf and blind seem to be immune to OmegApp’s blandishments.