Sunday, March 20, 2011


It's Flashback Sunday (or something). I wrote this column on "modern technology" back in 2003 for one of Santa Cruz's free local papers. As a topical item its way out of date now, but there's still some fun stuff to be mined. Enjoy!

On June 13th, 2003 I was in the pressbox at Yankee Stadium on the day when Roger Clemens pitched his 300th win. Was I covering the event? Guest of a fellow writer? Naaah. It was 7 hours before game time and I was a tourist on the $12.00 tour. But still, I was there - just not concurrently with anything important. 

A pressbox is a living museum. Not so many years ago reporters sat there on wooden benches and pounded out the story of the game on manual typewriters. Or they used these same rotary telephones to relate every pitch to a party line. On the other end were regional broadcasters who recreated the game simultaneously for the radio audience, with crude sound effects and a vinyl record of crowd noise.

Nowadays we see the game through the viewfinder of our digital cameras, transmit the pictures via our laptops or our iflipdroidberry and broadcast the game with our cell phones to our friends who couldn't get tickets. Vin Scully's immortal call of "That's a 6 to 4 to 3 double play if you’re scoring at home," has been replaced by "Yo! Dog! Can you see me? I'm on TV!!"

Am I slagging on the new gizmos? Well, I used to....but then suddenly I HAD all of these toys, and now I am one of THEM. The battery powered mob. Vox belt clip and ear bud populi. The rechargeable generation. The necessary bat utility belt for the post-everything suburban warrior, where analysis has pre-empted fact, achievement has been upgraded to productivity, and real-time is what they used to call live. Life. Living. Connecting. If this thing has a USB port....

I am now a wall hugger. You see them now at every public locale: Lapheads searching for an open wall socket. Around the edge of a good size coffee shop will be an uninterrupted line of open laptop screens, like the battlements of a castle. Wanna piss off a propellerhead? Sit at a table next to an empty wall plug and have an actual conversation with another human being. In real time. Oh the forest of dirty looks from the powerless in the middle as they boot up and watch their precious battery life slowly trickle away...

The teeny camera took some practice. My old film camera was so old school you had to focus manually. ("So advanced - its simple!" Ran the ads - Ha!) Now there isn't even a viewfinder. You just hold it out in front of you about a foot and watch the monitor until you line up your shot. I saw an entire vacation through a 2"X2" window. Like a periscope. For a sub-human.

And the cell phone has me spooked completely. We got it for emergencies, and I want to treat it as such. Like a fire extinguisher. Why? Well one of the strangest sights that I have ever seen was two college dudes talking to each other on the street one day. Facing each other, yakking away, and then it hits me that they are having different conversations. Each is talking to somebody else, and not seeing (or hearing) the other fellow directly in front of them. Deaf and blind, to all but their internal dialogue.

If I could line up all of the cell phone abusers in the world, and somehow get them to pay attention to me, I would explain two things to them:
  • 1) For the past 80 years now humans have been raised with two speaking volumes, one for live, and one for the telephone. Why? so on the phone you can hear yourself with only your other ear. When you are talking on a cell phone in a public place you are speaking to everybody around you at telephone volume, which is twice as loud as regular speech. 
  • 2) What you are broadcasting to the 100 sq. yards around you isn't remotely interesting. Try recording a few of your telephone calls and then playing them back. They won't even be fascinating to yourself, and you know what was going on! And then, as long as I had the all of the cell phone abusers in the world in a line, I would run them over, and I would have both hands on the steering wheel....
And this is with all of the recent improvements in sound quality. Cell phone technology was pioneered during the Vietnam War. And although the two-shoe boxes together size has shrunk, and the number of other features has grown, for years the resemblance was uncanny. Recall your average cell phone user in the 90's. Take in the bulging veins, the yelling, the stressed out manner - put a helmet on him and stick him in a foxhole, and voila! It's Apocalypse Now. Or soon, at any rate: must have got disconnected somehow... 

But, truth be told, these toys are a lot of fun. On our recent vacation each night I would download the digital camera memory into the laptop and make a slideshow of the good pictures. It was our own nightly highlight reel. And I don't remember much about what we saw, but I have all of what we saw stored on a memory card. And there it will stay; cold, brilliant and poster-sized for all eternity. Or until the battery runs out. Whichever.

Angus McMahan  

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