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Better isn’t always better.

13 July 2007

“Welcome to the Delicious Generation. Where guys who can’t get a date get drunk and argue about frameworks.”

I know there’s a digital divide, and of course, I’m squarely on the digital side of it. One might say that, since I’m a programmer, and someone who loves gadgets, and someone who loves logic puzzles, and someone who has trouble thinking *inside* the box, I’m teetering near the far edge.

That makes me kind of uncomfortable.

I feel like I, and lots of other folks on this side, are involved in a strange anthropological experiment or something. “Let’s take the hu-mans, and we’ll put some of them in front of screens, and create idols, make shiny things, things that beep at them and make them feel important, and then let them tell everyone else how important they and their likes are. Then they’ll get so much validation from these computers and these devices, they won’t NEED to interact with people, with the land, with social issues. They won’t care all that much about the emotional health of their families — they’ll just provide them with beeping gadgets, so their spouses and children can be validated by beeps, too. They won’t see beauty unless it’s displayed in pixels.”

The far-reaches of the digital divide are something I used to strive for. I needed the coolest, fastest, newest thingie! Only losers don’t have it! But it’s a lonely Siberia out here. Spend the day in front of your computer, and then go to a school committee meeting. Serve on a commission where most of the people only check their email once a day. Talk to your carpenter about biscuits and glue. Imagine being those people. I don’t think I was ever one of them…I was geeking out on Apple ][s in high school, marveling at how I could make Eliza say dirty words.

These days, I’m as likely to have my face in the bobbin race of an antique sewing machine as I am to be in front of a computer — during non-work time, that is. The action of the ruffler foot. The smell of the old steel. The regular oiling. The absolute MECHANICALNESS of the whole thing. Not only is it not digital — there isn’t even any PLASTIC! And the beauty is not in the preservation of the machine. It’s not about what the machine will be like in 50 years. It’s about now. What can I do with it now? What can I make? What can I learn about fundamental things such as physics, and fabric, and what it was like to be a mother 75 years ago, making a quilt for her son so he’s warm at night…because she HAD to. Because if she didn’t, her child would be cold. The practicality of darning a worn sock (rather than throwing it away and getting a new one). Who CARES if it’s a sock that now has a seam in it? Is it still a sock? Does it serve the functions of a sock with no detriment? Then use the damned sock! Don’t throw it away!

*sigh* I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m jaded. Or maybe I’ve just been sold a bill of goods one too many times, made to believe that my life really WILL be better with this one last thing. But grabbing for the squeaky-clean, always new, top-of-the-line, tweaked-to-perfection-and-beyond thing is not, in my opinion, something to be proud of. Sometimes, when I do it, I actually feel sort of pathological. There must be something in the DSM-IV about it. It’s not OCD. It’s a well-bouyed belief that better is always better. And that just ain’t so. Sometimes, ‘better’ makes things worse. Go darn a sock. Go drive a nail. Go dump your inbox, and only go near it once a day. Maybe you’ll see what I mean.

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