Navigating by heart and soul vs. Palm Pilot
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — My PowerBook crashed, plain and simple. I'd been assured that Macs were reliable. Mine didn't even have a CD slot or software for burning my work onto a disc. The machine just snapped and took my breath away. I had part of a book stored on it, after all. And right then, I realized we all worship at the altar of RAM at our own peril.
So, scrawling on yellow paper, my elbow dunked in the ink of the past, I write a rant that goes beyond mere personal disappointment and chastises the whole electronic culture itself. It won't bring my lost work back, but I'll get some satisfaction in expressing it.
I've always looked to teachers, poets, and people of the Book to help set the compass of my life. But now, I'm afraid, it's the giga giants who clarify the world by first reducing it all to spreadsheets and C++, then twitter at my mistakes. I bet they're the ones who used to collect stamps while the rest of us were out playing football in the streets.
That's harsh, I know, but as a man who still tries to navigate with heart and soul, I feel encumbered by the chip hustlers who know all the answers, and by the minute-by-minute breakthroughs in electronic hardware, desktops, laptops, docks, airports, external drives, prompts, and menus that are supposed to be people friendly but ambush me and defy my best intuitive power.
I have come to realize that those with power and position carry Palm Pilots and zip disks like regal batons, and where once there were artists and poets, pilgrims and saints who knew the heart, now we've got computer Goths who overtake virtual space but ignore the city of man.
Well along in middle age, I think the main action of being human - that is, acknowledging one another and making community - now flies way over my head on cold, noiseless wings that beat through unloving virtual space to nowhere at all, and no longer by way of handshakes and pure, affectionate bonds.
Let's face it. The new conquerors are geeks who wield computers like juiced-up swords. Many of their victories in medicine and science are true and beautiful, but many are just the tinkling of cymbals and the sputtering of manic know-it-alls.
I am a geek, too, but of a whole different order. I am that one who questions the status quo, and pays respect to the age-old pathways of emotional and spiritual intelligence, and not just the greased lightning of new operating systems. That is my burden, too - always has been.
And so, I acknowledge the new class of information specialists. They are the seeming saviors of our day, the shepherds of electronic banking and cellphone technology. They are, after all, the heroes we are supposed to emulate - many of them child geniuses fed on nothing but video games. And yes, I admit, some of them are iconoclasts and innovators headed for Nobel Prizes and see computer science as the key that would pierce human suffering.
But I feel betrayed by the extent to which we are tied to technology and to the purveyors of information only, while spirituality seems alien - or at least unacknowledged - and just plain naked of nano. There seem so few men and women now of visionary imagination and extraordinary conscience who would couple the hard drive to matters of the heart.
And while I submitted to the webmaster like a puppy after the crash, and while I know that the computer salon set will descend on me, I warn you that in our rush toward RAM our real challenge is to boot up at the deeper levels and Google for a standard of human dignity, love, and action that does not depend on software, but busts through on its own in the here and now.
• Brad Miller, author of 'Returning to Seneca Falls,' is a counselor at Allendale Columbia School, an independent school in Rochester, N.Y.