Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Being Re-Enabled

My younger sister Barbara was among the stalwart few who visited this blog back when I, too, did so. How nice it is, then, to mark her birthday (she is trying to catch up in years to me, but since I am the tortoise in this race she keeps losing) today by revisiting these old haunts of mine.

My sporadic appearances here reflected computer problems, in part. This venue and many others have become territory partially hidden and inaccessible to old systems -- such as an old iMac a dozen years old or so. Given that, and that the computer was also hiding and scrambling some of my simplest TextEdit documents, my possibilities for adding to the miasma of global-energy-sucking blog postings proved a bit narrowed. While Martha's computer was working well, how often could I keep borrowing it?

The built-in obsolescence that so disturbed Kornbluth in looking at his 1950s world remains an unpleasant aspect in ours: for Web complexities move regularly beyond the capabilities of old machines to cope; and the relentless march of technical "improvements," even more firmly than in the 1950s, locks us into dependent relationships with industrial corporations.

Many, perhaps most, seem to accept this without much complaint. They like having new things, after all.

I love old things, by and large, and hate the habit of waste we condone in this society, which seems tied to our usual acceptance of the artificial, the simulated, the ersatz, and the commodified. View the contents of most shopping carts at the grocery store, if you doubt this.

As a writer I feel rather content with the pencil with which I write these words -- and quite fond of the manual typewriter that I have used today in some writing, too. Yet for several recent years I have been unbusinesslike as a writer thanks to a series of computer-related setbacks that added up to a stalled career. I remained a writer in my world, yet appeared to be a non-writer to the outside world because of my difficulties with my interface with that world.

I purposely use so unattractive a noun -- "interface" -- for it captures the difficulty of this situation. I enjoy being enabled, technically, with regard to the outside world. That I have little choice about accepting this enablement, however, disturbs me. The Internet continues its growth and its consumption of global resources that our earth can ill afford to waste. In being required by my work to deploy the same interface as everyone else, I am being required to help perpetuate and worsen the waste.

I am forced moreover to buy into impermanency. These pencil markings of mine have a potential existence that is so immense it makes the potential existence of whatever electronic version I make of them appear that of a gnat. Having lost such an incredible amount of manuscript-editing and manuscript-preparation work in the last three years has made the gnat-aspect clearer to me than ever. It has become another of the semantic twistings of technological society that the act denoted by the word "saving" can be, in terms of "documents," actually the act of alteration, destruction or obliteration.

As I say, I enjoy the benefits of being enabled, of being more "connected" -- more disconnected, in other words, from the quiet satisfactions of my isolated pencil and typewriter. I am accepting, as I wish more people would realize they are accepting, that I am "having the good of it," in the phrase of Phil Klass. As Phil saw, it remains for us to take the "moral stance" even while being culpable for taking the material good of a less than ideal situation.

... and all this may seem an odd way of saying hello to you, the reader -- whoever you are. Yet that is what I am doing. So:

Hello. Or, to some of you: happy birthday.

Cheers ...