I am not exactly anti-technology. I have a laptop, fax machine, broadband and something like 10 business and personal phone lines.
Yet when I first heard that several Michigan counties planned on wiring – or make that wire-lessing – the entire county, my first thought was of George Orwell’s 1984, and the omnipresent telescreens. You got information from them; they were capable of watching you, and you were never, ever allowed to turn them off.
Sometimes I wonder if we are creating our own telescreens. Forget worrying about the federal government; we are happily bugging ourselves, all the time. The other day, I heard a mother bawling out her little son. Seems he turned off his cell phone while he was at the playground. Not allowed in today’s electronic America.
And I am more part of the problem than the solution. Last year, I bought a device to give myself wireless at home. I thought, well, I can sit in my backyard, write, and look up things on the Internet.
But every time I got on, I immediately was knocked off line. The computer doctor was summoned. Seems one or more of the neighbors had a bigger, tougher wireless kit than I did.
So what I needed to do, the doctor told me, was go back to the computer store and buy an even bigger, tougher and much more expensive wireless kit. Then I could knock them off instead. At that point, however, I realized that I had wasted a good bit of time and money already, and that the amount of time I would actually surf the net in the garden would be about five minutes a year.
Plus, I once covered arms control negotiations and knew where all this was leading. So I did the sensible thing; unplugged my impotent wireless device and threw it in the trash. Of course, there is no stopping technology.
We will all soon be wirelessed to the max, capable of going multimedia at the drop of a pixel from wherever we are.
What is less clear is if we’ll be able to get away from it, whether we’ll be able to have a romantic dinner date or a walk in the park without thinking of the little blue light in our pocket.
Instant communication is a wonderful thing, most of the time.
But maybe not all of the time. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Administration was trying to avoid blowing up the world. The crisis was full-blown when they got two communications virtually at the same time, from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. One was thoughtful and appeared to show the way to negotiation. The other was belligerent, hostile and nasty. What in the world to do?
Finally they decided to answer the reasonable one and not the other. And the world was saved. Had they had wireless technology and e-mail then . . . well, I don’t know. But I think I might just unplug myself and read a book tonight.