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And the geek shall inherit the Earth

Or, one more improvement, and I'm gonna scream!

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

The Last Word by Fern Chandonnet. He can be reached at fchandonnet@juneauempire.com.

In another time and place I worked in the company of a geek (which is a kind of ersatz typewriter repairman that came into being when evolution de-selected the Selectric) who, having stumbled into a discussion about the Founding Fathers, allowed proudly as how the country was, after all, "invented by dumb guys."

Knowing nothing of the Age of Enlightenment or that the founding guys were, most of them, polymaths, the geek of course was merely spewing received knowledge (the information that trickles into the frontal lobes after it has seeped through newspapers, television, comic books, rumor and imagination): that Thomas Jefferson signed something, maybe, and that he farmed; that Benjamin Franklin flew kites; and that George Washington rode in a rowboat standing up.

You know, dumb guys.

Such is geek mentation.

The quick reader will already have captured the point of this essay: that the Age of the Digit does not move me.

In fact, I am suspicious of anything that made its first appearance on this vale of tears after 1945.

Some of that has to do with the fact that steam locomotives were still dragging freight and people behind my tenement when I first squirted into the universe. But my disdain for the byte-and-geek crowd and their implements devolves more from an observation that neither crowd nor implement does anything of significance - save ease the process of copyright theft and speed the dissemination of the immaterial.

For those of you who may have sniffed too much solder smoke over the years, proof lurks in the digital lexicon itself, wherein the information train is split into "content" and, well, (What do we call that which has no content? That's right, class), zero.

Now, even the most linear byte-and-geeker can do the math: Content plus zero still equals only content.

Having thus demonstrated that much of the geekoid world is employed doing nothing (another descriptive of which is "unemployed") let's go on, shall we, to the byte-and-geeker's most earnest rationale: that his trade and implements improve "content" and its production.

To which we respond with a question: Where are the Aristotles, the Dantes, the Shakespeares and the Einsteins?

(For readers who may still be struggling with "polymath," note, please, that the four aforementioned notables did what they did unassisted by computers.)

Aristotle discovered and invented connections between man and the cosmos that still obtain; Dante's poetry and superbly imagined Christian comeuppance still thrill; with his take on the human psyche, Shakespeare shows up Mamet, Stoppard et al. for the forklift operators they are; and, after more than 75 years, Einstein's theory of nearly everything continues to hold against the assaults of the wired.

What philosophers? What poets? What dramatists?

And as for the least of the lot - the scientists - where are they?

Einstein connected the dots across the universe, whereas today's grant-savvy hypothesizers make use of the CPU's math powers (the skills, after all, of the idiot-savant - with the emphasis on idiot) to help them postulate, perhaps, that all neutrinos are divided into three parts.

It all started 35 years ago - this Luddite revulsion of mine - at a friend's house, where I saw and heard her un-lid a tin of dog food with an electric can opener.

"Quo vadis, Rita?" I said, pointing (and being allusive, which I do to keep the lumpen off balance).

"O, Ned Ludd, we hardly knew ye," she replied (equally allusive, though already electrically corrupt).

Those who have experienced the joy of U.S. Army basic will remember the "training" film featuring a hypothetical military post half of whose cadre have become infected with some disease that dare not speak its name - a film that ends, like most such army fumbling, with a huge question mark zooming out of the screen and into the sleeping recruits' faces.

That same punctuation pursues me down my nights and days with each new improvement to my life: color TV, smaller radios, 3-D, bigger cars, instant tea, LEDs, CDs, DVDs, UNIX, Arnold Schwarzen-egger and designer water.

Polyurethane, Styrofoam, instant coffee, benzoate of soda, polychlorinated biphenyl (look for it in the farmed salmon near you), diet Coke, postmodern damn' deconstruction and Ebonics.

Polyester, which never needs ironing but which also hangs onto odors like a Republican onto his nickels.

Expressionism, bi-partisanship, water-saving toilets, entrepreneurialism (what used to be called "burglary in the daytime"), bagel slicers, vertical integration, farmed salmon (did I mention the PCBs?), PowerPoint presentations, laser-light key chains, dog-vomit-inducing dried pig-ears, compassionate conservatism (all you need to know in this life is that Donald Rumsfeld loves you), dysplastic purebreds and genetically-altered corn flakes.

Watch me, Ma! Watch me!

Filtered cigarettes, radio talk shows, punk-grunge-metal-techno-hiphop, self-esteem (has anyone ever addressed the point that if morons develop self-esteem, it will be the end of civilization as we know it?), ecumenism (just what I need: a union of Southern Baptists and ayatollahs), grief therapy, Martha Stewart, Dr. Atkins' ice cream, rebirthing, performance reviews (is there a worker in the world who hasn't figured out that those things have nothing to do with either performance or review?), guitars in church, independent voters (Independent of WHAT, for God's sake? Conviction? Thought?), healthy bread with bits of wood scattered through it, and electric can openers.

Hey, call me old-fashioned, but whatever the hell happened to "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread - and thou beside me in the wilderness"?!

Next time, "The Feebleminded and Cell Phones - The Perfect Symbiosis."



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