Tales From the Trenches: Analog Saturday

Yesterday morning (September 26, 2015), I did a very quick pass through social media and then, around noon (all times EDT [USA]) I pulled the plug. iPad never turned on. Big Iron, aka the iMac, just sat unused, iPhone not used beyond lock screen for time and counting my steps. The last twenty-four hours were wonderful. So much so that there may be a weekly Analog Day in these parts. And, by the way, I am emphatically not into self-mortification, sackcloth and ashes; as for poverty-chastity-obedience, I could with difficulty hack the first two, but obedience would be the Deal Breaker. Simeon Sylites, this boy is not. [No one should miss the absolutely wonderful Buñuel short film, Simon of the Desert.]

What was so wonderful? What I got done. Totally caught up on one of my favorite publications, The Chronicle of Higher Education, a very high quality rag for those in…higher education. Wallowing browsing in some, by no means all, of the new books which have come in. You’ll take my point if I say that the most dangerous job in this neighborhood is…riding shotgun on the Amazon delivery truck. [There is no such truck…yet. But you get the idea.]  Speaking of books, when an undergraduate I counted books. When it hit one hundred, I switched to measuring bookshelf length. When that hit one hundred feet I considering switching to yards. But I didn’t. I jus t stopped trying to quantify. I have many books, let’s leave it with that and a picture of a pile just above where I’m writing this:
Alone with my thoughts on a whole lot of things, from calculus to my writing projects to just enjoying the exciting mental life of feeling and hearing myself think. Time to sit down and read through some piano music: two movements from Bach’s French Overture, the last movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique.

Did I think about the digital world? Couple of brief times, but knew that The Republic was not in danger, and if it was, my services couldn’t change things. Didn’t even thing about problems with digital solutions, like cataloging an enormous xerox collection, or an even more enormous clipping collection. The best thing was just feeling life slow down to normal speed, to whatever speed I chose to use.

Kant would have had no problem with this. Digitality [is that a word? it is now.] has its own categorical imperative. All those little switches in a CPU which put a device through its computing paces…to humans this can feel like, to use a Star Trek analogy, trans-warp speed. Humans simply can’t go as fast, fast as the neural connections of our oligodendrocytes may be. And that’s in large part because we don’t follow an instruction set; we make connections, we wonder down related paths, in short, we reason and intuit. No machine can do that. Programming a machine to reason? No can do…contradiction in terms. Ditto “Artificial Intelligence”, contradiction in terms.

So moving at human speed, without digital intervention, is part of what being human is about. Machines can curate by algorithms, but it’s a human curator who can do world-class curating with its/her/his reasoning and intuition.

Someone, probably an alleged Digital Native, probably is thinking “Luddite.” Did I say “no can do”? When computers were just one step ahead of Eniac and Univac and still called Electronic Brains…that’s when I started with computers. I’ve seen it all and done a lot of it; the “About Robert” page here has some of it, so I’ll not belabor the point much further than to say…I’ve programmed in Fortran and Assembler and C, including some Windows apps, beta tested for, among others, Microsoft and Adobe (including the PDF spec; every time you use a PDF file, there’s a little bit of me there). Kiddies, you claim to be Digital Natives, but being able to use a smartphone is not being a digital native. I claim the title for myself, and others of my generation, who got in on the ground floor of computing. So watch it when you say “so easy your grandmother could use it”…because I’m of grandparent age, have done and can do things digitally that will leave you at the starting line. So there.

Don’t get me wrong. I do digital all the time. Being able to yank in an 1896 in PDF format is wonderful. But it’s also wonderful to go after that book in a library…serendipity is sadly underrated these days. Some of the best references I ever had came from a book or journal I just happened to notice as I was going after something else. Of course, you can’t get a manuscript finished if you’re always doing serendipity. I always make time for it even when I’m working the digital to meet a deadline.

And maybe that’s he key thing here. An analog day forces you to do serendipity because you have time for it, because you don’t have to schedule it. It restores the balance. And that, in this usually unbalanced digital world of fast, fastest, instant and more instant…is something we humans need.




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