Giving Up On Your Favorite Color

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Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.

Forever Falling Short

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Not long after he was conceived, who became his son’s mid-wife said: may he fulfill his genetic potential. This scientific salutation to the world, might—who became his father, the latter thought over for some months, almost three decades later—just as well be, or have been, a curse. There are electronic devices, machines, for instance whose function is exactly to play music. And there are others, such as computers, whose function is exactly to record data, nothing more, in addition to processing of course this data. There are others as well, such as an elongated butane lighter whose exact function and purpose is to ignite charcoal briquettes that have been pre-soaked in lighter fuel to make possible a joyful outdoor gathering of folk together over a holiday barbecue. In all of these, the final measure of a thing, some thing of some human invention, is the degree to which the mapping of its purpose to its function fits perfectly. Things, such as a sword, or a well-weighted spoon used for eating cereal even, which have reached a point or a pitch of perfection so perfect such that further betterment cannot be imagined, these have reached their fullest potential. As for human beings, the father had been thinking, while his sleeping now grown son was visiting him, these are best defined by never reaching their potential at all; they are always falling short; they are always full of shortcomings. Unlike the things which humans make, socks that get holes in the heel, pull-cords on lawnmowers that break, rocket ships that blow up—what makes humans are not their perfections at all. While they themselves may make things that are, in fact, absolutely perfect, their blessing is that they may be curious, full of wonder, and playful, which the things they make may in their creation and in their being created resemble, seem to be, and even be a substitute for, but, inshallah, will never become.

Beyond Moore’s Law

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Picture an Operating System called Extinction. When this system is installed successfully, and enabled (or activated), the user becomes extinct. In the ever-increasing acceleration of the march of time, this is not so far-fetched. The speed with which the acculturation of technology spreads around the globe speaks to this. Slogans that are rooted in an overall system that to give a laptop to a child in the third world can change that human being’s life, presume much more than literacy and democratic opportunities. That child will become an operator of that computer or technological system on par with a child in North America or Central Europe or any other spot on earth where, like brushfire, technological advancements are occurring at their own pace, a rapidity behind which, like the ruts of a wagon’s wheels once left in the prairie grasses of Nevada, the past as biology is left far behind forever. My own written notes and scraps [a child’s]—stories, reports of family trips, poems—left in a three-ring binder and a scientific record book whose maroon plastic cover guarded the inscribed contents against chemical accidents and laboratory spills, will be, if they are not destroyed soon, readable by a human being in a thousand years, just as Catullus’ poems uncorked from a merchant’s wine bottle breathed new life into the world of love a millennium later. But, already, writing that I committed to a computer’s operating system even twenty-five years ago is not just obsolete: it is gone. It cannot be read. Either the machine on which it was recorded or the program by which it was saved, these devices in the service of keeping memory, that is to say, in the service of passing on human memory beyond the existence of that human’s biological existence, are already gone, or as good as gone, before I myself have died, within barely just half of my mortal lifetime thus far. Thus we live, or we are about to live, in an age where there is and the can be no difference between Gabriel’s horn being blown and the blowing of Gabriel’s horn, between one moment and the next moment, but during which we are all in and a part of the process of recording it, the motions and sounds of erstwhile human life, become now a giant God-less movie in a giant outdoor (and indoor, too!) theme park for nobody watching.