By the fourth week of January, resolutions made for the New Year are likely to have lost any momentum they might briefly have claimed. Resolutions usually take the nature of goals, and goals are fantasies, which isn’t to dismiss them—daydreams serve a purpose. But I prefer to form intentions, intentions that I follow through on (or not) on a daily basis. Before I turn out the lights on any 24-hour period, I get the opportunity to evaluate how true to my intentions I’ve been.
But if you twisted my arm and demanded I declare a “resolution” for 2023, it would be to become more analog. (I’m sticking with the American spelling; our British cousins prefer analogue.) Webster’s Third College Edition, published in the digitally prehistoric year of 1987, defines analog as a “system of measurement in which a continuously varying value, as sound, temperature, etc., corresponds proportionally to another value,” but that doesn’t quite describe what I’m talking about. I mean less virtual, more tactile; less electronic, more manual. In other words, I would resolve to live more three-dimensionally.
I was the last guy to acquire any electronic device. Late to the mobile party, I depended on a clamshell flip-phone years into the iPhone era; I finally capitulated to the hand-held computer, which I now find nearly impossible to be without. But it doesn’t seem that long ago (nothing seems that long ago once you rack up a certain number of years) that I was hammering out essays like this one on a manual Underwood, then physically walking my copy to the offices of the publication in which it was slated to appear. (Fax was an interlude I skipped.) I do remain a miserable ink-stained wretch, but only in the figurative sense.
You can call me a Luddite—or anti-tech if you like—only I can’t imagine returning to ribbons and oil, keys that stick, and letters that don’t print. I really identify with modern-day devolutionists. Without wandering too far into the woods on that one, it’s a worldview which holds that after a certain juncture (I accept that we aren’t hunters and gatherers anymore—well, most of us aren’t) every technological step forward society takes is in fact a step backward. Challenged by a friend to single out something that I thought had improved within my lifetime, I was hard-pressed to answer, and asked for more time. Eventually, I came up with medicine. (Now more than ever, as much an art as it is science, and based on the evidence of the last three years, I’d be forced to narrow that response from medicine to cancer treatment.)
Nobody wants to digest another word about the horrid state of social media—one of the many sinister offspring of our ongoing tech revolution—and the corrosive punishment these platforms inflict on teenage minds. But I must confess I have a lot of fun with Twitter. I don’t follow media personalities or politicians; I’m there exclusively for horse racing. I’d like to be able to tell you that my engagement with the platform has upped my handicapping game. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be true.
One thing I’m sure about is this: My very worst days used to begin by firing up the old social media machine, and tearing into users I disagreed with on just about anything. Awful. These days, as soon as I realize I’m awake, I take a few minutes to acknowledge the presence of a Higher Power, God, if you will, in this world of ours, wicked as it might be. The practice doesn’t require an electronic device or an electric charge, only a mystical one. There is nothing more analog than prayer.
In the same way that money isn’t the root of all evil—the love of it is what’s diabolical—our ever-advancing technology itself is not the problem. It’s our over dependence upon it, the lack of an alternative when a system doesn’t function in the way we have come to expect. Witness the meltdown, explained as a “computer glitch” (ummmm . . . okay), that grounded every airplane in the United States a couple of weeks back. The so-called back-up system came up empty, too, and there we were, passengers spilling out of airports from coast to coast.
Any activity that requires the internet as an intermediary, a conduit, is experientially the same. Think about it. I could be watching a hockey game or allocating a few shekels to a tax bill, or on the odd occasion, let’s say, making an equine investment or two, and there would be nothing to distinguish one activity from the other: I’m sitting in front of my computer, or worse, looking at my phone.
About five years ago, on New Year’s Day (speaking of resolutions), I brought my family to a hockey game in an open-air ballpark. The temperature hovered near zero, we were seated way upstairs, and the wind was howling. Audible shudders rippled through the crowd, expressed as a collective “Ohhhhhhhhh.” It was the coldest I have ever been in my life, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. So would my girls. Having my lips turn blue while watching hockey in an outdoor stadium, penning a response to the IRS, or hearing thoroughbreds thunder across a finish line are wildly different experiences. The other way, I’m at my desk, pushing buttons and staring at a screen, the content being displayed numbingly similar.
While most science fiction speculates that the machines are becoming more like us, it is we who are becoming more like the machines. But that’s a subject that demands deeper scrutiny on some other day. Bit by agonizing bit, the more of ourselves we cede to technology, making everything more convenient in an instant, the more of our human essence—heart, mind, and especially soul—we risk losing in a collapse into ones and zeroes.
A final irony. I greatly appreciate this blog, this electronic forum that would not be possible without all the things I’ve been railing against. This piece is only accessible, so far anyway, on the internet. But far preferable to glowing digital screens are tangible newspapers, magazines, and particularly, books. Books are totally analog. Another plus: their technology will be relevant, and usable, fifty years from now. Can you say the same of your iPhone?