We are 100 days from the year 2000, known by simpletons as "the millennium` (see Monday's screed), and more generally as Y2K, the code phrase for the moment when the machines stop working. It says something about our culture, that the great rollover to 2000 isn't viewed in historical or spiritual terms, but rather as a technological test. Forget what it means for the human soul. What does it mean for my hard drive? Will the gadgets survive?
The hand-wringers claim that Y2K computer failures will lead to power outages, snarled traffic, trains stopped on the tracks, planes delayed, phones not working, and various other inconveniences and logistical nightmares that will prevent us from getting anything accomplished.
Except . . . that's how life is already!
Big city life has become a series of logistical nuisances, annoyances, aggravations and impossibilities. This is particularly the case if you foolishly attempt to go somewhere in a car. The rush hour has gotten so bad that the typical Tuesday morning rush hour doesn't even take place until sometime Wednesday afternoon.
And you certainly can't reach anyone on the phone, unless you have someone's secret cell phone number, in which case you can reach the person while he or she is stuck in traffic and only half paying attention to you. The exchange of words that follows rarely rates the definition of a "conversation.`
Increasingly, people who answer the phone reflexively ask you to send them an E-mail, postponing the information transfer to some other, allegedly more convenient time, but when you send the E-mail message it bounces back, undeliverable, because the "server` is down, or perhaps it is the "portal.` Thus you give up on E-mail and try a different phone number, reaching a robot who gives you an elaborate menu of options, each of which leads to a different menu, and then more menus, an endless array of branching options, like the Tree of Life, going back to the archaebacteria. No option ever leads to a living human being.
But you can always search online for your information, using a "search engine` that gives you 123,789 sites to choose from, and after much pointing and clicking and enduring of 404 File Not Found messages you can wind up at the home page of a real estate company in Tasmania. The only thing you can't find on the Internet is what you're looking for.
Admittedly, sometimes the technology works just fine. But then it works too well. You find yourself surrounded-stalked-by Intranet messages, E-mail, faxes, phone calls, FedEx, snail mail, little scraps of paper, documents, photocopies of documents. You're nibbled to within an inch of your life by little information guppies.
Somewhere along the way it became impossible to work "at work.` You can only work when you're not at work. I know that the moment I arrive for work, the achievement portion of my day is over. The only reason I am even able to file the midday column today is that I am not at work, but rather in a temporarily vacant office at the Rhode Island School of Design, which is in Rhode Island. Among the things I'm trying to find out is why Rhode Island isn't an island. I'm not even clear on why it gets to be considered a state. This requires investigation.
But back to the logistical impossibilities. The only way to get something accomplished is to find secret spaces where you can't be reached, and secret hours of the day when you're not even supposed to be conscious. You can get a tremendous amount done between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., once you stop feeling vaguely creepy and Night-of-the-Living-Deadish for getting up so long before dawn.
The other habit to develop is to stop answering the phone, since the person calling merely wants to suck some time out of your day, and probably isn't a friend, since you don't really have any friends anymore now that you're keeping such odd hours. True fact: I now enjoy getting wrong-number calls, because those people never ask me to do anything other than hang up. It's delightful! You just say good-bye, and they go! The efficiency of the exchange is marvelous.
In 100 days, the whole system may crash. Let it happen. We will start over, with horse-drawn buggies, canal boats, a daily walk to the corner store. You can make a phone call using tins cans and string. Laugh all you want, but that stuff never crashes.
Rough Draft appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, technology permitting.