On my way to the post office the other day, I noticed a car ahead of me which was stopped dead in the street, rather than parked at the curb. After waiting a moment or two behind this stationary car, I pulled out and passed it.
As I did so, I observed that its driver --- if that is the right designation for the operator of an unmoving car --- was sitting behind the wheel, holding a small black object up to the right side of her head. I suppose we should all be thankful that the woman had at least stopped her car in the middle of the road in order to hold a telephone conversation, unlike the normal modern practice of telephoning, driving, and eating a Kit-Kat bar at the same time.
When I left the post office, I saw that she had finally pulled over to the curb and emerged from her car to go into the post office herself, still chatting away on the phone. Perhaps she continued her electronic chat while buying stamps and inspecting the Wanted posters.The ultimate in this behavior was something I saw in the men's room at a concert hall a year or two ago. There was a gentleman standing at a urinal directing his stream with one hand, while with the other hand he held the standard small black object up to the right side of his head. After finishing at the urinal, he sauntered out the door, still conversing on the telephone. Who knows, perhaps the voice at his ear was providing him with continuous instructions on how to pee in a urinal and then how to find his way back to his seat at the concert.
If I were more technologically up-to-date, I suppose I could have captured this episode on video and uploaded it to Youtube. However, I must confess that the terms "video," "upload," and "Youtube" have only the most remote, theoretical meaning for me, like the names of subatomic particles or Chinese pastries. I do own a cell phone, but I never carry it around with me. It stays in my car, where I use it to place a call perhaps two or three times per month. None of my friends and acquaintances know its number, because I don't know its number, so it never receives telephone calls meant for me. It does ring in the car from time to time, no doubt the cell phone's own friends checking in, but I never pick up.
Even if I carried the thing around with me, as a solid citizen is supposed to do, I couldn't capture videos on it, because I don't know how to take a still photograph with it, let alone a video, let even further alone how to "upload" anything to anywhere.
When I first heard about the image-capturing ability of contemporary devices, I misunderstood the first syllable and spent several weeks trying to snap pictures with a xylophone. Eventually, I discovered my error and went to consult the user's manual that came with my cell phone. This was a compact paperback that would have been the size of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain ... if it had been set in type large enough to read.
With the aid of a magnifying glass, I deciphered line after line as helpful as this:
To define the settings for EGPRS or GPRS connections from your PC, select Menu > Settings > Conectivity > Packet Data > Packet Data Settings > Active Access Point and activate the access point you want to use.
After a few such gems, the users' manual dropped from my nerveless fingers, and I knew no more.
The brave new world going on around me, and without me, seems epitomized by chatty communications like the following, from a review of something called an iPad:
"I tweet a couple of times a day and am fine with Tweetdeck on my iPhone. But frequent Twitter users might get a lot more out of Tweetdeck on the iPad: You can tweet from multiple accounts, easily geolocate tweets via a built-in map, and view many more of your friends' updates at once."When I encounter something like this, I know the superstitious awe that medieval peasants must have felt when a priest intoned magical phrases in Latin. If only I had a clue to what "Tweetdeck on the iPad" means, then perhaps my immortal soul would not be in danger. Will not some new John Tyndale arise to translate all this into the vernacular? Oh, but I forgot: nowadays, this is the vernacular.
A few years ago, there was a veritable cottage industry of translating this sort of thing into English in the form of books with titles like Windows for Dummies, PowerPoint for Dummies, and so on. I own several of these volumes, and have tried immersing myself in them, generally to little avail. For one thing, the subjects of their translation are issued in a new version every year or two (or is it every few weeks?), rendering last year's PowerPoint for Dummies largely inapplicable to this year's PowerPoint. In any case, the younger generation is apparently born understanding all these things anyway, without any need for the work of the latter day John Tyndales to create the Dummy books. At the same time, my generation, which might provide the market for them, is steadily being sent to the recycling bin.
As the rising generation replaces us, with their seemingly inborn familiarity with all things IT, does this make them in effect a new species? A species possessing the solution to the riddle of existence, the answers to all the questions which have plagued us --- the old Hominids --- for the last two million years?
We tried one solution after another --- fire, monotheism, high art, psychotherapy, socialism, rock-and-roll, prozac, the Free Market, orthotic shoes, and the South Beach diet --- only to fall back. Until now.
And now, finally, our successors, the next stage of Homo sapiens, have ascended to the level of effortlessly geolocating tweets and viewing many more of their friends' updates on their iPads all while listening to iTunes. Could evolution possibly reach any higher?
--- Dr. Phage