Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Readers May Be Surprised to Discover….

…that I don't drive and have never possessed a car, that I have never owned nor do I particularly enjoy using a cellphone, that I don't have a laptop, nor do I make regular recourse to what pass for "hand-held devices" especially since, unaccountably, forks, pencils, bars of soap, and paperback novels seem not to count as such anymore. I have never found the inconvenience of lacking these things in my life to outweigh the inconvenience of introducing them into my life. I'll cheerfully concede both that circumstances in my life could alter in ways that would change this calculation for me and so, too, that other people leading other lives than mine might have already sensibly calculated the conveniences and inconveniences differently than I have. Nevertheless, I will venture the opinion that people need considerably less than they think they do and that more of them are made miserable by their inconveniencing conveniences than they seem to be aware of. This is not luddism on my part, but, if you'll forgive me, simple intelligence.


jimf said...

> I don't drive and have never possessed a car. . .

Well, my current car is 18 years old. I bought it in
September, 1990. I hadn't owned or driven a car before
that since I moved to the New York area in 1978.

I ended up getting a car as a result of the following
conversation with the human resources person at the
consulting company that had just hired me:

Sue A.: Do you have a car?

Me: Uh, no.

Sue A.: Well, we we're not hiring folks who can only
work in Manhattan these days. You need to be able to
drive wherever we decide to send you. So -- you're
going to **get** a car, right?

Me: Uh, right.

;-> (Sue A. was **great** at her job -- arguing with
insurance company representatives all day. You **didn't**
talk back to Sue A.)

> I have never owned nor do I particularly enjoy using
> a cellphone. . .

I can do ya one better. Not only have I never **owned** a
cellphone, I've never even **used** one! Somebody once,
to my horror -- it was right after 9/11 I remember -- tried
to **lend** me a cellphone. I frantically demurred, but
managed not to have to reveal that I didn't know how to
use one (not to mention the fact that, without my reading
glasses, I couldn't even see the damned buttons.)

> I don't have a laptop. . .

Nope, neither do I. Though I **bought** one (a pretty
nice widescreen Sony Vaio) for the son of a friend who
to whose Bar Mitzvah I had been invited a few months
ago. It was risky to spend that much on a gift, but
it went over like gangbusters.

For me -- too expensive, too un-expandable, too fragile,
too stealable. Though I may end up with one, eventually,
for all that.

> . . .nor do I make regular recourse to what pass for
> "hand-held devices". . .

God save me from Blackberrys and their ilk! The guy who
sits in the cubicle next to mine looks like a Star Trek
crewman with all the cr*p hanging off his belt.

I've managed to dodge the requirement to carry around
such junk, so far in my career.

> . . .especially since, unaccountably, forks, pencils,
> bars of soap, and paperback novels seem not to count as
> such anymore.

Yeah, I carry around that kind of stuff in plastic bookstore
bags. (Hopefully, by the time the one I'm using wears out,
I've brought something else home from Barnes & Noble.)

I've never been into attache cases, backpacks, or fancy
over-the-shoulder bags ("handbags" for men).

The people I work with, or who see me on the corner waiting
for the bus, probably think I look like some kind of bag
person. (It's probably been a factor in my lack of
career advancement. ;-> ).

> Nevertheless, I will venture the opinion that people
> need considerably less than they think they do. . .

Well, I do have 6 or 7 PCs (in use!) at home, as well as
6 sound systems. Do you think I'm overburdened? ;->

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. It's interesting how people can differ even in things as trivial as their use of these sorts of appliances. I'm completely the opposite of you, Dale (except on the car thing and the laptop thing), I can't even imagine a possible.... interpretation in which such a thing as a cellular phone or a BlackBerry could be construed as an inconvenience.

There's just no way I can get my head around that, and I know that people, some of the time, some people who have them do complain that they take over your life, but I've simply never been able to understand such a way of thinking. But the important point is that, I was raised in an early-adopting home, by an early adopting parent (an early, punchcard programmer in fact), and so I'm really native to the sort of world and lifestyle associated with personal computing and telecommunications devices. I don't really know, whether you'd say the same applies to you or not, Dale?

As for laptops, I don't use them; they've not got enough portability to port, nor have they the modularity and customisability of a proper PC rig, so I agree with jimf there.

Dale Carrico said...

Many devices peddled as conveniences seem to me instead to constitute foolhardy invitations to ever more intensive harrassment and distraction. But as I cheerfully concede in the post itself, I am happy with my choices and happy at the happiness of others who choices differ from mine.

I will note that in describing yourself as "an early adopter" you seem to assume that your own choices will indeed eventually be adopted by others who are at present "behind the curve." Unfortunately you cannot actually know whether or not this is true -- the curve on which you are locating yourself doesn't actually exist, among other problems -- and it very much remains to be seen, on a case to case basis, when the "early adopter" truly is one as against when he is instead a dupe of marketing and peer pressure who squandered money and attention to embrace a technodevelopmental cul-de-sac that will come to be lampooned by mildly talented comedians comedians on Vh-1 retrospectives in a decade's time.

Anonymous said...

Aha, good point. Notice, though, that I didn't describe myself as an early adopter, only the household that I was raised in, by which I meant that we tended to acquiesce to techno-gadgets/trends that later became popular, before they became popular.

However, I didn't mean to imply that I do, or even consider myself to, keep on "the edge" of the "latest thing", and merely referred to the fact that you seemed to be indicating a preference for a nice pencil over a mini-keypad, whereas I was raised in an environment where one was always on the lookout for the next most convenient way of performing any given task (or performing new tasks, as I explain to many of my friends who fail to comprehend the beauty I see in having as many of my computer-controlled media applications networked to my PCs and server as possible), to which I attribute my penchant for things like mini-keypads over pencils or PDFs over proper, paper-intensive documents.

Besides, my purchasing habits aren't really that affected by advertising, except negatively, insofar as I go out of my way to avoid purchasing things if the advertising for them strike me as particularly stupid or patronising, but don't otherwise pay much attention to what a brand says about itself publically outside of the unavoidable appeal of a nicely packaged product placed next to a plainly packaged but scarcely distinguishable alternative. Although I do readily admit to being a dupe to peer pressure on numerous counts, at least insofar as my peers (technophile gadget goons, in this case) tend to have a disproportionately great influence on my estimation of whether something might be worth investing time and effort in. But then again, aren't we all?

Dale Carrico said...

But then again, aren't we all?

Quite so. Don't take my curmudgeonliness personally -- I'm a critic, I criticize. But all with love!

Anonymous said...

The two issues I have are:

1) I don't want other people, especially work people and other 'authorities', to have the ability to locate and contact me anytime, anywhere. It lessens my options and control over my own life.

Sure you can choose to turn a device off or leave it at home or just ignore it, but simply having it is an invitation for others to intrude upon you in times and places that previously were not possible or at least difficult/awkward and socially discouraged.

2) All those links all these devices use aren't one way only...they don't just bring data in to you, they send data about you out.

Anne Corwin said...

Oh wow, I didn't realize you were a fellow non-driver. It really is amazing how many people are shocked by that kind of thing -- in my case I did attempt it, many times, and discovered I was frankly a road hazard, but I wasn't particularly upset about this and have always found *some* way to get where I need to go. The most annoying thing for me as a non-driver has by far been the comments and insinuations from other people -- IMO that kind of thing is far more annoying than simply not driving.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an early adopter, since things get cheap rather quickly, and you're only taxing yourself by getting them early. However, I was sold on the utility of an iPhone the first day that a friend of mine got one, when we needed to settle a drunken bet at a bar. Rather than waiting to get home, we got on Wikipedia right there. Then we searched YouTube videos, then I checked my email. It was fantastic to have that kind of access from a device that fits in your pocket.

I've found cell phones to be endlessly useful in coordinating activities with others, too.

jimf said...

> I've found cell phones to be endlessly useful in
> coordinating activities with others, too.

Yes, I'm afraid I've become a bit of a burden on my friends
by not having one, just because of that.

I've also started to feel a **bit** guilty going on long
road trips without a cell phone. What if I witness an
accident? What if my car breaks down?
(What did people do in these case before there were
cell phones?)