Ever pulled the plug on your hair dryer and blown a fuse? I knew someone who did that, then soon realized the power was out in her whole building, indeed the whole Eastern Seaboard. The blackout of 2003 had many of us feeling that undeniable feeling of “ooops.”
‘Fess up. Maybe you’ve felt it too, that odd mixture of culpability and confusion. The brain seeks closure, causality. My hand + that switch + lights out East Coast= shit.
What is that emotion? A twinge of guilt, a whiff of ego? It’s funny the way technology brings out the magical thinkers in us. This adult feeling has a darker twin in the way children sometimes feel at the loss of a loved one– that somehow, in some deep, undeniable way, the child is at fault.
But I’m starting to think that funky combo of narcissism and culpability at the heart of “breaking” the power grid, for example, is inversely proportional to a new emotional relationship I’ve developed with my Blackberry: I’m addicted. And I’m clueless.
Picture me thus: whaling away with both thumbs, texting and e-mailing; wild-eyed with the velocity of information. But do I know why I can’t save a photo file? Have I a clue where the photo-taking button actually is? Am I constantly/inadvertently taking pictures of my knee caps? At least I’ve stopped “butt-dialing” random folks in my address book. And what’s with all those icons? An “app” used to mean chicken fingers back in the day.
I’m so old I “learned the computer” back in the basement of Armitage Hall at Rutgers University in Camden. I learned COBOL; I programmed in BASIC. I actually developed a program for a video store cash register and got a B+ in the class. Not bad for a diehard English major. But even then, when computers were new, the lot of us in the basement often looked up from our monitors, blanched, convinced that we’d somehow made the wrong keystroke and broken the hard drive.
Do kids weaned on X-Box ever feel like they might break the machine? Bring down the grid? Or is this generational angst, borne of a moment when old technologies were new?
Still, I dusted off my skills in late 1999, when Y2K was a looming crisis and only those who knew the old languages could save the day. C’est moi.
So imagine my chagrin at thumbing my Blackberry like the worst cliché of an octogenarian learning e-mail. AS IF I SHOULD WRITE THE REST OF THIS BLOG IN ALL CAPS.
I don’t think this dual capacity to relish new communication technologies while simultaneously owning my “unsophisticated user” status is unique to Web 2.0 culture.
Take, for example, driving a car. In a snow storm. You’re in a skid. The dreaded fishtail. And you recall what Driver’s Ed. taught you to do: don’t hit the gas! Don’t jam the brakes! Spin the steering wheel into the direction of the skid, lad, spin it into the skid. But me? I assume “crash positions” a la Airplane. Hands and feet off the wheel, off the pedals, whooping whoops until the car comes to a stop.
I was reminded of all this when I saw a graffitied NYC MTA subway map recently. (Go here: http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/submap.htm ). Some wiseacre had tagged it, specifically in the wide open expanse of blue to the upper right of what can only be described as the technicolored spaghetti of the subway grid. In the spot where the waters of the East River turn towards Rikers, where the Sound is a promise the map makes, someone wrote “There Be Dragons Here.”
We fill the limits of what we know with magic. We are all cartographers at heart. Drive on.