Wednesday, November 23, 2011

...of impermanance and pain.

Remember how my computer died a few weeks ago? Traveled to oblivion for no apparent reason? Yeah, well I'm starting to believe that A**** has some sort of a planned obsolescence chip implanted in its wares, because shortly after I scheduled my last post, C's computer also took a leap off the digital cliff, albeit in the form of something called "a kernel panic".

That's right, even though I obviously have access to one, I am currently without a computer of my own and all that this implies.

"Well, good." Was C's rather Zen response. He is of the opinion that we don't really need those damn things for anything anyway, that they're worse than TV and anything we do on them could be done better with something else. Check the weather with a barometer. Read a newspaper. Play music. Write a letter.

In principle I agree with this, of course. We are of the generation that lived without these Universal Turing Machines for more of our lives than with them. We know people who barely touch them. I myself have been using them less frivolously (well, I guess that depends on your definition of the word) lately. All the music in the world is not my *tunes. My memories are not on *photo. My friendships are not my email. I'm not my facepoke (as anyone who's friends with me on facepoke can plainly tell, since I never use the damn thing anymore). These truths are simple and self-evident.
And no. A computer is not an essential. One could argue that it's not even that useful. Not as useful as a wood stove-heated iron, or a shed roof, a hammer, a kettle, a saw, a whisk, a fern leaf, a small porous mushroom...

And yet. I'd be lying if I told you I took this second computer calamity with an equal calm.

Never mind the fact that said machine crapped out on me in the middle of a newly started short story, which at twenty minutes and two pages in, I had not had time to back-up yet, or that I lost some glorious shots of my cat, possibly for forever.

The somewhat epic freak-out had little to do with the million and one things I could easily think up as reasons for screaming "But! I! Need! A! Computer!". I mean, I need one to keep in touch with my family and friends, scattered across the globe. I need it to write. And yes C., I do need it to blog. These are all good reasons.
I need a computer, obviously not to survive, or even get through an average day, but because it has become a useful tool for me to relate to the world, to arrange my thoughts about what is going on around me. Seriously.

When I was little, my mother always had a typewriter. First the regular kind and then, the more fleeting kind, an electric one. I remember luxuriant feeling of typing with the electric typewriter. How smoothly it moved, how it was empowering to know that I could erase things, unmake words as well as make them. Still, it did not move at the speed of thought.

In eight grade I took the first computer science class ever offered at my school. The lesson plan consisted of teaching us how to learn programming on a language long since obsolete. The goal of the class was to code ones and zeroes into making a owl sitting in tree wink. This took all semester.
Luckily for me this surprisingly arduous task was to be completed in pairs. Since I was completely uninterested with ones and zeroes I let my then best friend who was good at math, do the coding while I dicked around on the computer next to her. Mostly I used the innovative application created by the Soviet computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov. That's Tetris folks.

Then one day I discovered another game, which called for the player to type certain words and sentences at an ever increasing speed. Your fingers were supposed to do this in a particular configuration with each one assigned with particular keys of its own.

Over the semester I got quite good at this game and after a while I found that using those keys and all of my fingers, rather than just two, I was able to type as fast as I could think. This discovery sort of blew my mind. It made writing out your thoughts, observations and emotions infinitely more satisfying. That's right. Being able to type totally changed my life.
I relate to the world the first and foremost through words. Reading and writing to me are the highest from of communication. Spoken words as beautiful and passionate as they may be, so often fly out carelessly, inarticulately, filled with makeshift information and ill-remembered facts.

Perhaps because of this, I particularly cherish these relationships I have that are so dependent on typed words, both of frivolity and careful thought, peppered with images and hyperlinks and snippets of music, at the mercy of the fickle filaments of the internet.

For all the supposed disconnect this machine supposedly offers, I have found a correlating connection. For every wasted hour on the internet, there's a horde of words I want to hold onto, or a crucial piece of information unearthed.

For instance, in what now seems a rather ironic twist of fate, I found this uncollected Gary Snyder poem that rather more eloquently explains my feelings on my "need" for a computer.

Why I take good care of my Macintosh computer

Because it broods under its hood like a perched falcon,
Because it jumps like a skittish horse and sometimes throws me,
Because it is poky when cold,
Because plastic is a sad, strong material that is charming to rodents,
Because it is flighty,
Because my mind flies into it through my fingers,
Because it leaps forward and backward, is an endless sniffer and searcher,
Because its keys click like hail on a boulder,
And it winks when it goes out,
And puts word-heaps in hoards for me, dozens of pockets of gold under boulders in streambeds, identical seedpods strong on a vine, or it stores bins of bolts;
And I lose them and find them,
Because whole worlds of writing can be boldly laid out and then highlighted and vanish in a flash at “delete,” so it teaches of impermanence and pain;
And because my computer and me are both brief in this world, both foolish, and we have earthly fates,
Because I have let it move in with me right inside the tent,
And it goes with me out every morning;
We fill up our baskets, get back home,
Feel rich, relax, I throw it a scrap and it hums.

-Gary Snyder-
I need a computer to type. I need it to stay connected.

What do you need yours for? Would you be willing to do without?


  1. Firstly I need a computer to read your blog! but more seriously I do feel the connections i have made through blogging and also Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter - those lesser sites that many bloggers look down on - are real and vital. Friends and I will take a break from our troubles and connect through pretty pictures - it sounds frivolous and it is - it's also revolutionary.

  2. Oh, and I would feel really sad if I couldn't read your blog! I include you and it amongst all of that despite my slightly clunky first sentence.

    It's interesting how a lot of communication by computer is off the cuff like spoken word but it's written. Should it be more considered? I'm rambling . . .

    Hope you resolve your computer problems soon anyway!

  3. oh, how i love that gary snyder poem...THAT is why i need a computer!


  4. When I was without my computer, or internet, I mostly missed reading blogs - I could check email easily on my phone but it was infrequent since all i get are updates anyway = I never get "mail" in the truest form.

    so what i missed was discovery. and, yeah, i could do without. i have many notebooks and pens, I have a phone, i can read, and when i had no internet i barely touched my computer, i went out and DID THINGS instead. so i think i could go without - i have before, and when i needed to i went to the library. i had no computer for a couple of months - it was actually liberating.

  5. My home life revolves around my desktop. It stores all my music (seriously, I own about 20 CD's and three cases of ancient cassette tapes that likely don't work anymore, without MP3 files, no tunes for Cel), holds all my outfit photos, is my source of all information (phone book, directions, weather, news) and my way of keeping in contact with my friends (I don't do the texting thing and dislike phone calls). Even just without internet, I'd be pretty lost. I went without for a few weeks early this year and it was absolute torture.

    However... if I lived in a place where I had a thermometer and didn't need to go anywhere I didn't know how to get and was surrounded by my loved ones, I'd mostly be happy to do without, bar for my tunes.

  6. i'm always tempted to put it away, even just for one full 24 hrs but i admit to being an addict who just can't. the fact that it has taught us all to be used to instant gratification is terrible, but at the same time, the things i have been able to learn and grow from via the web are invaluable. computers utterly ruined my "career" as a record store worker, but have ultimately enriched my life in so many other ways. you take the good, you take the bad, you take em all and there you have...the facts of life! :)

  7.! There's no way I could do without it (in a wanting sort of way), but of course if it were gone, I'd make do. I loved and hated typing class in Jr. high. They'd make you sit there at an oversized typewriter (with erasing powers) and read a book- almost like a piano! I hated that my fingers didn't know where to go and that I'd have to look down and peek. But as time went on and they learned their places on the keyboard, I really enjoyed typing (as I do now). That's how I am with learning most things- frustrated at the process of learning, and LOVE learning something new. Kind of an oxy moron, eh? My girls watch as I type now and ask, "how do you do it so fast without looking?" hahahaha... I tell them that they'll learn too :D
    You are adorable in your floral forresty dress and that mushroom shot is totally framable!!! Happy Saturday! :D

  8. Putting aside my use of the computer at my job (as I could happily move on from my job and do one that doesn't need a computer) I use a computer, primarily, for blogging. Both reading lovely ones (like yours!) and writing my own. Through this medium I have found so many people who I admire and respect, who share my values and make it okay for me (in my boyfriend's words) to be a "giant hippy" (he means it with love of course) something that I don't always find with my friends in "real life", though of course I value their friendship as well, just for different reasons. I couldn't do without, because I would be too sad about walking away from the virtual friends I've found, and it would be hard for me to go back to writing my thoughts for me alone.

  9. This post is so timely for me! My laptop just died and I feel like I've been taking the loss way too hard - and yet, there is some strange connection between that machine and me. It's kind of like a pet goldfish. Sure I can get another one that will look very similar to the old one, but it's never quite the same. I really do rely on it to keep up with friends and family all around the world - the reason why I have't up and quit that facenonsense - and there's something I just really like about a well-running computer. A sense of reliability, a way to make all the stuff in my head visible, from time to time. What can I say, my tech side and my hippie side are often engaged in dialectical struggle.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post and the great Gary Snyder poem! I just love him.

  10. Funny, just reading this as I come off of three days of self-imposed internet "fasting". That time made me realize that even though I've been vigilant, I have been letting myself waste too much time and energy online - it's so easy! I was so much more productive AND relaxed without it. And yet, there are many things that are good, especially blogs (like yours!) which give me inspiration and ideas and let me share my own with others. So, guess it's just time to take a breath and evaluate the cost/benefit scenario day to day - scale back, but not shut down.

    Oh, and btw I too felt amazing when I realized I could type as fast as I could think, it does change things!

  11. i'm spending less time blogging at the moment...and i REALLY enjoy after a couple of days getting back on and reading up on all of these amazing stories, like yours. The internet has become like a journal of sorts for me, I've always written....but it's nice to share on my blog... and the internet is totally inspiring; keep in mind I'm a stay at home mum with limited time - if i had to actually move my ass to find inspiration these days while missy is still young- well I just wouldn't have time to. So in that way, this has become a superbly useful device. I become more creative after perusing things I like on here...but not if I were to spend I have in the past. Big chunks of time on the computer is either a luxury or time-suckage, depending on how often it occurs. which at the moment, isn't much, so i'm loving it. xx

  12. i love the computer but i have wasted a lot of time on it. i suppose that's not the computers fault though :D we didn't even get a computer until 2004 or 05. i didn't have a cell phone either until about 2007. yes, i could live without it, we all could. i wouldn't choose that though...moderation is the key for me.

  13. Well, I think you (and Mr. Snyder) have summed it up beautifully and I agree wholeheartedly :)

    Honestly, had I not developed an unyielding girl crush on an ever adorable and stylish Finn gal early on in my foray into the world of computer-based social and creative networking, I suspect my relationship to the computer could have evolved quite differently over these past years! Of course, I wouldn't change a thing <3

  14. first off, i'm sending good juju your way, in the resolving and unfolding of technology's place in your life. may your true needs be met, in computer form or not.

    also, you did sum it up so well, with beautiful articulation that needs no rehashing from me. i love the suggestion of learning to read a barometer..that hadn't even occurred to me, and i realize this is a skill our family should know! years ago, i stopped watching tv, and i still have this idea that i "don't" watch tv...but with the purchase of my very own mac 4 years ago, i now watch something every night. but it's different right? because it's online? nope. my exhausted evenings are now consumed with mindless dilly dallying on the web. surfing the net has a sirens call to it..."just one more page, one more click" and before i know it, an hour, two hours have gone by. i heard this weekend that the average american, by the time they are 70, will have spent 5-7 YEARS of their life watching TV. the internet is a tool, for sure, but how many years of my life am i willing to spend dicking around?

    i "need" a computer for writing, as typing at the speed of thought is so satisfying. yet, there is a certain magic that happens in the writing of a journal, somehow it is more tangible to deeper parts of my psyche. i love how digital cameras have nearly eliminated the toxic process of film development, as well as the paper it saves. but perhaps the manufacture of computers is just as toxic and offsets all that. i do love how much i LEARN from the internet, how i can find out how to do anything. growing up in a small conservative town, that decided to get rid of its library (serioiusly!), made finding alternative information impossible. i wonder how my life would have been different had i had access to the rest of the world. i appreciate the net for the way it connects people, for the revolutions it has supported...obama, middle eastern spring, tar sands, occupy etc. and for how it exposes users to different walks of life and hopefully leads to tolerance and less ignorance.

    all that said, i remember when i didn't have a cell phone, or a computer or a tv, and my life was pretty lovely. now my focus is to help fern learn to navigate a world of technology without losing her soul...or interpersonal skills!

    sorry i wrote you a book. you know it's just cuz i love you. the best reason for the internet yet!

  15. my computer has replaced my telephone (another invention I could probably live without I should add). Not that I don't enjoy talking with people face to face, because I really truly do and I'm not (that) awkward in person (despite my reliance on technology to maintain some friendships). I don't know, I guess it just allows me to remain pretty selfish and divide my time the way I wish.

    Regrettably, the other important part of computing is that I really could not do my current job without it (which is really depressing). I depend on it for researching lectures, writing lectures, grading, and media that I use to try to "engage" my very 21st century students (some of which have never lived without a cell phone or computer). Some folks call it edutainment... and it really does seem to work well for my students.

    I do agree with C. though, if I could live in a world where we no longer used computers I don't think I would miss it.