The binary age

This is just a casual, rambling observation, inspired by far too many of my experiences, but the skeptic in me forces the admission that none of this has been empirically tested or statistically supported. Yeah, you get that way when you spend too much time on such forums…

Much is made about the “connected” nature of our society anymore, and by that I mean, the ability by a noticeable number of people to check e-mail, establish a web connection, receive text messages, and otherwise communicate electronically from wherever they might happen to be. While much of this can be attributed to cellphones with more numerous capabilities (“smart phones”,) it also applies to many plain ol’ cellphones, netbook and notepad and laptop computers, and probably a few wristwatches and umbrellas. I cannot vouch for how many people exemplify this; the marketing hype at least implies that such things are inordinately useful and important.

I myself admit to being quite unconnected in this manner. I hate cellphones, mostly because I’m tired of losing signals or trying to understand someone who keeps cutting out. I have a little $20 emergency jobbie that I use when on the road for an appointment, or sometimes in an area by myself that might be hazardous; while you might imagine “the dark side of town” by this, what I mean instead is hiking in unfamiliar territory or areas where a fall is much more likely. I do not want to be connected; when I’m out away from the home phone, the “land line,” I am busy doing something, and not really into a random conversation, even when alone. And when I’m with someone, there’s this basic implication: If I answer the phone, I’m telling the person I’m meeting with face-to-face that someone else is more important than they are. Add to this that the typical overheard cellphone conversation seems to consist of, “Hello?… Nothing, what are you doing?… WalMart…”

(I am in the south, so this may be skewed a bit.)

Now, I recognize that I might be an old curmudgeon in this regard, resisting the newfangled gizmos and the changing times and all that. Yet, there’s too many things that seem to be reminding me that being this way might have been a good idea.

I’m not even going to talk about the hazards to driving – just be sure to figure them into the mix, because they’re significant. And I’ll only mention the abject stupidity of texting anything on a tiny keyboard, even a non-numeric one, just once, and leave it at that. It’s actually much worse than these.

Let’s start with, the number of people who cannot read a fucking map. I’ve ridden in cars with people who follow their GPS units blindly, and it’s pretty tedious, especially when you know the route and there’s a shorter one if you turn the other way. “Um, we’re heading south; why did you just turn north?” I kept quiet once, thinking they were running another quick errand, only to determine that they had set their unit for “major roads” or some such. And yes, I’ve seen the people who need a GPS, and where they end up without one, but that’s due to their failure to understand how a map works. About the only credit I can provide for that is it saves on refolding the typical pocket map…

Notice where I said, above, that I keep a cellphone handy when out in remote areas? The key word there is ‘remote,’ and the reality there is, no signal in at least a third of these locations. If I was dumb enough to rely on it, I could end up in serious trouble – but I’m not that dumb. There’s always a backup, usually someone who knows where I am, but also the overall idea that the cheesy little gizmo isn’t something I’m going to put my faith in. I did without one for years – it’s called planning.

Mostly what I’ve run into, however, is a noticeable tendency for ‘connected’ people to be almost impossible to reach, and worse to communicate with. You see, when someone checks their e-mail on their phone while at work or out shopping or whatever, they either a) save it for later, or b) type out a six word response. Since I’m silly, and use e-mail like a letter and not like a text message, I ask everything that I want to know in one missive. And then spend the next three to six trying to get answers to everything that I asked in the first. Considering that the average response time to each e-mail is a day or so, this can get ridiculously drawn out. This is, of course, if they really do get back to it ‘later,’ which often isn’t the case anyway.

There is also the idea that e-mail (and text messages) somehow save on time or effort or something – depending on where someone works, more than half of the important communications during any day might come through e-mail. Which is ridiculous when you come to think about it, since it takes at least ten times longer to exchange information than a phone call. E-mail is useful for casual communication over items without time constraints, but ridiculously tedious for anything else.

You may have noticed the little anti-icons in the sidebar, purposefully avoiding all of the social media bullshit. If you credited that to me being an old fart or something, try again. I not only had a Facebook account, I was responsible for playing the social media game where I worked, at the insistence that this would accomplish something useful. Yet, no one could ever tell me what distinctive benefits it was supposed to provide, least of all produce any real numbers, and I already had enough other tasks that updating statuses and posting pics wasn’t supportable unless it could justify dumping something else. Obviously, it couldn’t. And my personal involvement was actually boring me to tears – I already maintained a website, which allowed me as much control as possible over my own photos, and I get no weird sense of accomplishment in listing ‘friends’ that I’ve never even spoken to. I have enough websites to go to for interesting information, with the added benefit that the amount of utterly mindless dross, and photos of people’s food or vacation spots, take up none of that. Is it important for you to know that I like Colin Hay? Yeah, I didn’t think so either…

And then, there’s the camera phone. Obviously, I have some bias in the manner, so filter this as you see fit, but what a goddamned waste of time and energy. I have seriously toyed with the idea of starting a “Save the Electrons!” movement to eradicate the waste of memory space and power drain on servers from the deluge of images too stupid and low in quality to even exist (yeah, go ahead and make comments about irony if it makes you happy.) I spend a lot of time teaching people how to properly (and steadily) hold a camera, achieve good framing, and think about their photos, and 99% of phone images exemplify everything that can be done wrong to an image, including having taken it for no reason. Not that long ago, photography was preoccupied with sharp lenses, films with the best resolution, and good color rendition – people chose particular films for particular purposes (some of us still do,) and made the effort to find lenses that performed well. It’s startling how much this has changed, with people chasing megapixels on an expensive touchpad phone with a lens from a toy microscope. Believe me, I’m no equipment snob, but I encourage at least having some standards…

While the technology was supposed to make things so much easier, more efficient, and less expensive, the end result has been a remarkable decline in quality, expectations, and usefulness. It may be very nice that someone can instantly access a web page from wherever they are, yet this has importance less than 5% of the time in my estimate – the rest of it is spent on vapid nonsense. Hooray, seriously, for the GPS navigation of rescue operations, and the cellphone that can be used when someone is lost or in danger – I won’t attempt to deny the benefits. But if you have to search hard to find those benefits, maybe it’s time to re-examine the situation. I’m having difficulty seeing the value in paying $100 or more a month to know what some celebrity can say in 140 characters, or to get sports scores immediately, as if waiting until you got home spoiled them or something.

Maybe it’s just me…

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