The modern computer is (or is not) Beelzebub. This is NOT a rant against technology by an old fart who does not understand it.

What's keeping you alive?

What’s keeping you alive?

About a month ago I had reason to give an old college friend  a book. He had made a wise crack (although he was dead serious) implying university departments such as Queer Studies are simply “fluff” courses and keeping college students from real scholarly pursuits, thus dumbing down education.

He’s right that some college departments are dumbing-down education. Business schools. At Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, for example, no class is offered in economic theory that includes a study of Marxism. That’s not academic discipline, it’s indoctrination (the Cox students go from there with one understanding of the way economics works; that understanding is certainly serving you well, isn’t it? How’s your retirement fund holding up?).  But, as usual, I digress.

I told my friend I’d ordered a book to be delivered to him, one I know has been used in some Queer Theory departments. I thought little else about it.

This evening I noticed the ads gracing the Yahoo page when I opened my email are for Barnes and Noble, using as samples four books by the author of the book I ordered for my friend. I don’t get it.

NO, I DON’T MEAN NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW THIS HAPPENS. That’s the given. We old folks do not understand this modern technology.

But neither do my very modern, sophisticated, au courant (they have no idea what that means) students at SMU. They don’t “understand” it. They don’t have any better idea , than I do how their precious electronic gadgets work. They simply (I mean “simple-mindedly”) use them and use them to build what they think is a life.

My students were bored with/ surprised by/ confused by my telling them in class yesterday that the first working computer was built in my lifetime. That isn’t quite true—I had forgotten the exact year. (I was born in 1945, and—depending on what you consider to be a “computer”—the first one was either 1941 or 1943**.)

My students will write their next essay on Ronald Reagan’s  Challenger Speech. For the old folks reading this, I need not explain. In the speech, Reagan says (Peggy Noonan says through the Great Communicator),

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that.

I was merely trying to help my students understand the “wonders in this century. . . dazzl[ing] us.” They cannot comprehend that there were no computers available to ordinary people until I was already what they would consider “old” (I bought my first primitive affair in 1987 to write my dissertation). And when Reagan made his speech, the cell phone as we know it did not exist.

The Good Ole Days.

The Good Ole Days.

If my students were smart instead of smart-ass, at this juncture in my rant they would ask, “What’s the point?”

The point is that it does not matter one whit whether or not I (or they) understand the technology on which they are constructing their lives. It does not matter an iota whether or not Yahoo is paid by Barnes and Noble to place an ad on my computer tailored just for me.

What matters is the why. Why are we so enslaved to this technology that we are no more enlightened or spiritually evolved than the people who  three or four thousand years ago were enslaved to Beelzebub (whom people of my generation know as “The Lord of the Flies”)?

But it isn’t even the technology we are enslaved to. It, in turn, is enslaved to rampant, personhood-devouring Capitalism. Everything is for sale. Even your thoughts as you read this. What are you thinking about? The fact that you are mortal or the amount you have to pay for “organic” groceries that won’t harm your health? The reality that your time here is limited or the amount you’re going to have to pay your new personal trainer to get healthy so you won’t die so soon? What about the chic clothes you bought the other day attempting to look young?

You and I know I could go on and on and on and on and on and on. The problem is not the technology. The problem is that for all of us—yes, us old folks who rail about not understanding it, too—the technology is the latest tool in our frantic attempt to ward off our fear of death.

That’s all.

** “Computer.” Wikipedia. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. (I know, I know, Wikipedia is not a “source” for research. In this case, it’s good enough. If you want to check it out, go ahead. It says:
The first programmable electronic computer was the Colossus, built in 1943 by Tommy Flowers. . . Konrad Zuse’s electromechanical “Z machines”.  . . The Z3 (1941) was the first working machine featuring binary arithmetic, including floating point arithmetic and a measure of programmability. In 1998 the Z3 was proved to be Turing complete, therefore being the world’s first operational computer.

Fluff or academics?

Fluff or academics?

 

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