Does Your Soul Have E-mail?
I earn my living by computer. I work on a computer, I train other people to use computers, I answer questions about computers, I put food on my table with a computer. I’m not alone. Everyone I know earns their living in some way with a computer. Nobody is doing much of anything new, granted, but we’re doing it faster, bigger and sharing it with more people than ever before. And with any luck, on 1.1.2000, I’ll be unemployed, sitting in the dark, watching riots.
When the Galaxy 4 satellite failed in May of this year, 30 million pagers went dead. Hospitals resorted to two-way radios, TV networks couldn’t broadcast, Wal-Mart, Circuit City and Walt Disney, among others, had their method of doing business disrupted because two computer systems wouldn’t respond to commands. This brief moment of electronic silence threw people’s lives into chaos. Good. If it made only a handful of people decide to toss the pager in a drawer and forget about it, to reclaim just a few extra minutes of silence and privacy, good. They will be happier and better adjusted when all of the technology we have come to depend on forgets what year it is.
With each new advance in technology, we pay a little something for it. Most of the time, the cost is small compared to the benefits gained. Telephones rob us of silence, and the right to be left alone in our homes, but how many lives have been saved because of them? More than enough. E-mail? Great. Now we can write letters in an instant, respond to questions at our leisure, not just when the phone rings. Of course, now we’re tied to a box on a desk, and we get worse junk mail via the Internet then we’d ever allow to come to our homes. Not too many porno magazines are in a position to do mass mailings to 500,000 people a day. You can do that in an instant on the Internet, and it doesn’t cost as much as a single issue.
Got a cell phone? Handy, isn’t it? Did you know that there is currently legislation pending that would require a GPS (Global Positioning System) chip to be put in all mobile phones? It’s to better assist in times of emergency, since the technology would allow people to be “located” within six yards of where they really are. Located? I prefer “tracked”. There is currently a debate regarding a National Health ID card. The size of a credit card, it would contain your entire life’s medical history on a microchip. Proponents of it say that it will save lives because vital medical information, such as previous history and allergies would be instantly available to health care professionals. And insurance companies. And lawyers. And your boss. And in short order, anyone with enough money to purchase the information. The selling of personal information by federal and state governments has been going on for years. With the new technology of CD-ROM’s and faster, bigger computers, you can get a custom made dataset for whatever government information you want. College graduates by zip code? No problem. People earning over $50,000 with no children? Sure, gotta sell those travel packages. How about people with AIDS? Employers would want to know that, I’d imagine. People with a history of emotional problems? Nope, we’ll hire the next person, thanks.
All of this is possible because we now have the technology to do it. In the Fifties and Sixties, J.Edgar Hoover ruled with a iron fist because of the contents of his file cabinets, which were said to contain the dirt on hundreds of movers and shakers. Today we question potential Supreme Court justices on their movie rental habits, simply because it’s somewhere on a computer, and someone thinks what a person does in the privacy of their own home is pertinent to their ability to decide constitutional law. What aspects of your life, tracked by computers, would be embarrassing if disclosed? You like strip clubs? Pay your tab by credit card? You subscribe to High Times or Hustler magazines? How many computers you think that shows up on?
In certain cultures, you can’t point a camera at a person. They feel that taking their picture robs them of a little bit of their soul. As backward as that sounds, we daily hand over more and more of our life to technology, convinced that in turn we’ll save money or time, but in reality we just get a little more accustomed to less. Less time, less money, less of us. How can you stop it? Living by cash is one method. Throw away your cell phone. Write letters in longhand. Myself, I prefer to wait for it all to collapse, for mankind to finally get what William Burroughs called the “Naked Lunch” — the moment when everyone sees exactly what’s on the end of their fork. Maybe when that moment arrives, when the millennium rolls over us, and welfare checks stop, mail doesn’t get delivered, and cars won’t start, we will start to feel awfully short-changed by what we have been fed. Then we’ll have to go looking for answers anywhere we can find them, with whatever tools we have. I think sticks and bricks will be popular.