My Last Wooden Box
I wouldn’t exactly say I am against all this new technology, that I find it abhorrent or that it should be banned or similar; I can see the uses and, must admit, I am one who happily uses it for certain purposes too. I was first introduced to the computer shortly after finishing school, which would have been the end of the Seventies, when Apple began to show what could be done with Charles Babbage’s hardware and Ada Lovelace’s mathematical algorithms. Back then, as you may well recall, a computer relied on the person using it to create the programs needed, to write the code which made everything work; and that code was not just long, it was highly complicated and still in its infancy. I can even remember my very first foray into this thrilling technological world, visiting a convention where the latest in computing was shown, and offered for sale, and where one of these small, limited capacity – as we know now – wonders could be used. The salesman must have had a very bad day, judging by his comments to me as I laid my fingers on the keyboard, as all he could say was that I wasn’t very good. Not having learnt coding – it was not a school subject back then – this came as no surprise to me but, being of the salesman type, put me off buying from him.
In the Eighties I was involved with real time computer transactions for the military, with a strong network of several hundred consoles and a computer centre, and technology had moved on so far over these few years that most did not need any coding knowledge, the first packages were being produced and marketed with the newest computer systems. In the Nineties I was there for myself, with my own online presence right from the very beginning, as the internet began to win on popularity and size. I even remember, at the end of the Nineties, someone asking me what made me so special, what I had done to be on the internet – although he said in – as if being a part of the newest technology was akin to being included in a Who’s Who publication as someone special; such comments were made by those who didn’t know what the internet was, and who probably had no access themselves, and are unlikely to be voiced by anyone, in a Western country at least, today. And these days, beyond the Noughts and into whatever name this decade has, I have my own servers and my own domains and web sites which I build, administer and play around with.
So it’s not exactly the technology which I do not like, but more what it has done. We have a society – speaking here exclusively for the Western world where the internet is part and parcel of society, which is not the case for many developing countries – which has accepted the technological advances and taken them to heart. But we also have portions of our modern society who have made this new technology such a major part of their lives, it would be almost impossible for them to have a social life without it. Friendships which are purely online, as one example, or which are real life, but carried out online simply because that is the custom now. If you are not online, and using a certain set of social media, or specific applications on your newest smart phone, you are not one of the right crowd. I dislike the idea that every single outing into the real world, into the fresh air outside world we used to be able to see and appreciate with our own eyes, has become a feast for Instagram and Facebook, without it being seen any more. People photograph their coffee and publish it on the internet. Companies take advantage f this: Starbucks, for example, asks people for their names so that they can personalise the coffee they are selling – I don’t know how many exclamation marks you can add to this idea of a cup of coffee being personalised, but imagine there to be a sufficient number added – and specifically misspell names of those who are likely to photograph their food. This is a marketing ploy: the person is amused, or whatever, photographs the misspelled name and logo of the company, uploads it to their favoured social media platform, and advertises the company for free.
I have been in art galleries and museums where groups of school children have been given a tour. They are not listening to the guide, and certainly not looking at the world of art, but concentrating on their cell phones to see what else is happening, what is happening outside the gallery or museum. They do not see the potential for what is right in front of them, or appreciate the works of art, and often only shoot a quick photograph of something which might be interesting, but which shows that they were there and nothing else. The predominant comments show their level of boredom, that they have to go out with the class and see something old.
I have been in street cafés and restaurants where groups of younger people have not spoken to one another for an hour or more – depending on how long I was there, although I am sure it was not my presence which struck them all dumb – but have turned their concentration completely to their cell phones. Some have even shared what they’ve been sent with those around them, and then sunken back into this lethargic staring process with occasional movements of the thumb and fingers as whatever they are observing is scrolled through. Conversation, the real reason why people meet and drink coffee together, is nonexistent. If a child of just eight years does not have the newest cell phone, it is a pariah and cast out from civilised society in the classroom. In my day it was nothing like this, we had comics and some toys which were considered the must-haves. Later, I am told, this moved on to fashions, to clothing, where the right label had to be in each piece worn, especially for young women. Now it is technology: the latest cell phone with the newest applications installed. I’m not sure that I can see any social advances here at all, let alone advantages.
I am also not current with the latest reality shows, with television in general. I took a short look at it, and still do now and then when visiting someone else, or when in an electronics shop where all the televisions run all day long, but haven’t seen a great deal of interest. Now and then something comes up in the news about a reality show, but mainly bad press unless the paper is sponsoring the programme, and then it is nothing other than exciting, new, worth watching and the like. I have not had a life of television, and so do not miss it as others might. I get my news by other means – and this is my use of modern social media – direct from those who write it, as it is published, by following a select troop of reporters and news makers, as well as their publications, on Twitter; but not to the extent that my face is imbedded in that small screen all day. I find this the best way to balance what I learn, by tasking all political viewpoints and weighing them up for myself. But, like you, I have come to the conclusion that the present regime in the White House, and likewise the one in Number Ten, are not good for their respective countries, and things are going to go wrong, or go from bad to worse, before anyone s capable of stopping them. It is sad, but it is also the mentality of the people now: they have their set news sources and so not believe anything propagated by another source, such as may be left or right leaning, and that is the way they go. Without balanced information from all sides, it is impossible to make a good decision, impossible to know what is right, which is the right path to follow. Sadly, in this case, such blindness brings real trouble and strife and, as we will learn, as has been prophesied, will probably also bring human suffering and death. This is our world, and technology cannot help us to get out of it, as it is the reliance on technology and the information it provides – which we have specified – that defines us and our decisions.
There has always been crime, just not reported in the same fashion as we have now. The drug scene was once really a scene, and for the higher classes who could afford the best whenever they wished it. As with all fashions, it gradually seeps down to the masses and becomes popular rather than exclusive. I am reading about the Mann family, a German literary dynasty almost, who held power, in a manner of speaking, through the entire last century. There the tales of opium and heroin use, and misuse, are covered just as we see today, but in a different class. There is the alcohol-related violence, the thefts, the general crime right across the board, but in a family considered to be of the upper – not aristocratic – classes in Europe and, following the expulsion of the Jews from Germany in the late Thirties, in the United States. There are the areas of a city one does not visit, the dives and the lowlifes we hear reported about today; not a great deal has changed. They move from one area to another; crime is cleared up, a block cleansed or gentrified here and there, and the criminals have simply moved their form of business to another block, another quarter of the city. When I revisit cities of my childhood, either in person or by proxy, I see the changes.
I know many Americans, and have a good deal of involvement with them, although mainly those who live and work in Germany. The few contacts I have in the United States are written ones – my letter writing is quite a broad band thing – and rarely through personal contact, although a few years ago a large group did come over to visit me, and the year before I was in Baltimore to visit them. A great deal of what I read in the media is based on the USA, from all sides, and paints various pictures which have to either be assimilated or individually assessed; I am not a person for generalisations and understand the differences between individuals as opposed to social groups, State groups or even nationalities. I know many people of many different nationalities, again, mainly through writing, and have good relationships with them all. Here, as my INTJ profile suggests, I am more introverted but throw myself into some things which are enjoyable, which are challenging. I have been a politician, elected as a county councillor for two legislative terms here, as well as many other things, but now enjoy my retirement and manage, somehow, to get through the day despite the effectively increased cost of living. Having a pension is fine, but the working wage was considerably more: now I have the time to do all those things I didn’t have time for before, but not the finances. My reference to the library, in my last letter, would have been to my schooldays when I became school librarian in order to read those books hidden from view, under the counter. We have a library in our small community here, as part of the school, but only open twice a week and then also only during school time; which means that it closed last week and will remain closed until the end of August. The next library of any worth is in Bremen, but I have my own around me at all times, and that is a comfort. A house without books… as Marcus Cicero and Hermann Mann both famously said.
I must admit, I am fairly stuck on WAP as a site with potential. There are many others, and I occasionally visit some of the better ones to see what is happening, how things are changing, who is looking for what. The standards are very different, not just from the overall design of the sites themselves – which makes a difference to me from an aesthetic and web-designer point of view – but also from the sort of people who go there and leave a profile behind. Many are set up with automatic approval or approval through other members on the site – without any form of checking on those people or instruction, I might add – but WAP has a small team who work at the site ad keep it up to date, which is a bonus. From your point of view, of course, there is the cost factor, but it is a dedicated site and people who come here know what they are going to find; they come with a specific aim in mind. Being spread out across the internet, as some people are, is not necessarily a great benefit. What is of advantage, though, is a good profile with photographs because this attracts the right sort of people and entices them to put pen to paper. There are, to be honest, very few on WAP I would write to, for many reasons, mainly because the profiles do not speak to my heart – and if I’m going to be doing something for a long period of time, my heart needs to be in it – or because what they are looking for is not realistic.
I’d like to know a little more about the book order facility you mention, and how it works exactly. I have the impression you need to tell those responsible what you wish to have and who will be providing it on these forms in advance, which strikes me as being strange, but there is nothing outlandish in this world which hasn’t been tried and adopted. There is no problem with deadlines and advance orders and similar here, but exactitude is also considered a virtue by some! I generally allow myself one or two books a month, which takes money from my eating budget, but I probably need to diet anyway, and also have a good supply from various libraries and from a street library near here. Now and then interesting titles are left out for anyone to take – the idea is that these people also put a book back in to the library in exchange, which works exceptionally well – occasionally books in English appear there too, but these tend to be much older. I came across an Ellery Queen title last week, original from the Thirties, this copy published in 1965. And, perhaps more interesting for me than anything the cousins wrote as Ellery Queen, a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins (1957, 1968 edition). Surprising what remains on people’s shelves over the years. I wonder how my library will be assessed when I finally get my last wooden box.