"Technology is the Devil."
I recently said this jokingly to a group of journalism students, who giggled as I described how my spanking-new computer froze before I was halfway done writing my column for the week.
The bright, capable computer technician to whom I turned had me try a dozen clever ploys to unstick my machine. Nothing. Several other equally resourceful techs suggested additional machine-appeasing schemes. No go.
Four hours later--after trying to write the column on two other computers, then attempting to send the story over two separate phone lines, and then finding that my new, barely used fax machine needed a replacement cartridge--I dictated my column to a human being.
Who got it into the paper.
I laughed as I related the tale because I know computers do more wonderful things than I have space to name, including help produce the newspaper you're reading. But the fact remains that I am a fairly young, marginally modern person who is beginning to detest technology--or at least aspects of it.
I never again want to hear a tinny, canned phone voice inform me which button to push to obtain my bank or credit card balance. I no longer want to worry about the stability of a nation whose finances, security, military and children's educations depend increasingly on something that can be unplugged, hacked, virused or discombobulated by something as obvious as the coming millennium. I never again want to be delayed for four frenzied hours by a problem that turns out to be . . . a loose plug.
I really don't want an ATM shooting a beam into my eyeball to assure that I'm me before spitting out my money.
I want to deal with human beings--sloppy, incompetent, rude jerks that they can be. I want to hear human voices, with regional and cultural inflections I recognize. I want George Lucas flogged with unsold Jar-Jar Binks merchandise until he repudiates his souless, computer-saturated "Star Wars" prequel.
I want real.
Before you start ranting about the precious time e-mail saves you, the exciting, intriguing strangers you meet in chat rooms, the deals you've gotten on plane tickets and hotel rooms on the Net, listen:
Recently, while trying to log on to America Online, my brother Bruce kept running into the words "Invalid Password." An AOL technician informed him that his password had been used to send 240 questionable e-mails. The sender, they ascertained, was an unknown hacker. Bruce's password had been invalidated to protect his e-mail address from the interloper.
Logging on with his new password, Bruce found 15 irate messages addressed to him, including "Look, creep--stop mailing me garbage" and "Don't send me any more of your filth."
Apparently, the hacker--who by usurping my brother's password had stolen the ability to read his personal messages and obtain the e-mail addresses of his friends--did something worse.
"Some sleaze bag, somewhere in America, pilfered my password and used it to distribute porn," Bruce said. "It was the same feeling I had when my apartment was broken into--a feeling of violation."
He took a breath.
The hacker, he continued, "used my name to distribute the sort of nastiness I would never countenance. . . . The strangest part was that this happened in a virtual reality. That I was violated in an invented world where there's no accountability. That a world exists where anybody can do anything, commit all sorts of virtual crimes and . . . probably never be caught or even pursued."
Like the group of hackers who call themselves the "Keebler Elves," who last month broke into the National Severe Storms Laboratory computers, vandalizing a Web site officials use to check daily storm activity nationwide. Among the 13 Web sites tampered with by the Elves were several run by NASA, the Army and the U.S. Department of Education. The feds are stumped.
But complaining about computers is like whining about the weather or the fact that you had to replace your precious vinyl records with CDs, which soon could be replaced by something that downloads music on to--yep--your computer.
Technology rules. Use it and you're exposed to all its attendant problems. Ignore it and you're left behind.
I asked a friend, a computer programmer, why I shouldn't see technology as evil.
"Because you're not going to make it without it," he said, sounding thrilled. "Soon you'll be paying all your bills online, writing your letters, not using the mail or postage stamps. It's going to speed everything up! You won't have to go to the library, the bank or the museum! You'll have more time to socialize!"
Wow. My breathless world will zip along even faster. I'll never need to interact with flesh-and-blood beings whose in-your-face realities challenge, gladden, irritate or deeply move me. I will be an island unto myself, virtually connected to other human islands.