MAN VERSUS MACHINE Bye John Watts

On any given day a new computer glitch occurs.  Today it might be that you’re on/off button on your cell phone suddenly stops responding—no matter how desperately you pressed your finger nail into the button surface.  Tomorrow it may be that your cell phone screen has gone DIM and you can’t read it well enough to even FIND the name of the person you want to call on the cell phone.

Or you could walk back to your home computer in your office and find out that there is some new VIRUS warning box on your screen and try as you may—minimizing and trying to close it with the X in the upper right hand corner—the box remains.  And not only does it remain all day but it gives you an impersonal ladies voice that won’t turn off—telling you over and over again about the same WARNING—and that your security has been breached and to take evasive action (get out your debit card).

It is a perverse modern ailment of ours–how most of us end up not believing GOOD NEWS or the arrival of email or phone calls.  Because 9 out of 10 times it ends up being at worst, a scam, and at best, a money making scheme that holds no real personal interest in you or for you.  Ironically it is when we are the most tired and vulnerable late at night, that the sharks circle most viciously, with the same dead end offer to go back to college or have your book published or take a discount cruise to Tahiti.  Every on-line school in the world has a personal coach or consultant that will guide you through the best ways for them to bring CASH to the facility and drain you dry!

Just when you want someone to cry on your shoulder you get the same dread recording that stalked you the past few months.

So we end up feeling mocked by all of our inquirers.  And we give up the fight even as the dream burns on deep down inside of us.

It seems the more features and breakthroughs that happen—the more potential exists for new, insidious problems to occur.  Case in point–our cell phones can take wonderful photos and play nifty games, but the basic phone reception, in my experience, seems worse than ever, with dropped calls and mysterious pocket calls that sabotage relationships and close off business deals.

Yet we are programmed to feel a vague sense of guilt when we start bemoaning these lists of mounting malfunctions because we know full well–the revolutionary advances that we have made in being able to type and transmit and connect so democratically on the internet—and we should be ASHAMED of ourselves for grumbling.  After all, if it weren’t for computers–people such as ourselves couldn’t even PRETEND to be real writers as we could never type on a typewriter well enough and, conversely, would have to once again pay others to type our papers for us just like back in college.

And there’s this little sticking point to cogitate on too—we would have NO audience either!

But still the unease goes on.  On one hand we deeply appreciate the connection while on the other—something inside tells us that we should be connecting better still.

If you share these experiences and despair about ever catching up well enough to ideally benefit from technology like you should—than you are with me.  In the MAN camp (as in Mankind—please resist the gender card).

We are people who believe in PEOPLE above machines.  No matter the particular—we believe the PERSON’S story and offer empathy.  It is only a tool meant for uncovering dreams better and unlocking potential right?

If you are in the MAN camp you would admit to all of this.  You would also give voice to your fear that we run the risk of becoming ENSLAVED by all the manual’s and warranties and the INSANE specificity of each of our indispensable little toys.

But more than any of this—those of us in this camp see computers as a wonderful tool just as long as the people using it are treated with compassion and sensitivity.

When ideas and creativity are the main ingredients—then yes; computers offer an exciting future of turning dreams into reality via enhanced communication amongst people.

But as a be all and end all—and to RAISE computers AHEAD of the PEOPLE attempting to use them, well that is when I get off the bus and decide I am in the wrong camp.

For I know the sting of being stigmatized as a SIMPLETON with COMPUTERS.  I have been a teacher at public schools where seemingly, the only criteria for excellence they really had, that was secure in any of its concreteness, was to see how well you opened up and navigated through new toys and resources like blackboard or the latest digital drop box.

Who cares if the actual mandatory CHECK-LIST was counterfeit and devoid of creativity and meaningfulness?  Just the pressure of dealing with it made the accomplishment of solving it or getting someone else to do it quicker for you, made you feel 10 feet tall as it got you CLOSURE on some terribly ominous assignment serving as a serious impediment in your race to earn summer vacation.

As a result the computer proficient folks, conversant on software and programs and how to present it all at in-services—were and are often promoted more rapidly to positions of prominence, while the old fashioned teachers (are there any left?) , struggled and prayed for understanding just in case they were to fall behind in some computer proficiency deadline.

In the process, since we are keeping track of the MAN versus MACHINE war going on—the conventional views regarding experience and seniority flip flopped.  The fresh faced, recently out of college workers became the sought after SAGES while the middle aged folks, quickly became relegated to mere novelties, good for only providing humorous antidotes on what they remember from back in the old days.

It’s a knee jerk reaction on my part to say, but I always respond to computer help with great, unfiltered appreciation.  Not a hint of aloofness or denial.  In doing so, I act the part of some poor typecast dumb blond who can only gush—“gosh how did you DO that?  I could NEVER get that to happen!”  For I am a passive teacher who routinely uses weakness as a teachable moment.  Even in situations where I know an answer and am pretty sure the other person is way off base, I will still nod my head and sift their comments for any possible kernels of truth I can so I can affirm—“I HEAR YOU.” 

Don’t get me wrong—I am not complaining really.  I like broaching topics as a conversational “give and take” and not merely as FACT.  And I like being the one who ASKS for directions.  It makes life more interesting and I get to meet new people this way.

But this approach is an inherent disadvantage when it comes to computers and career ladder climbing.  Being transparent about the QUEST for learning rather than the MASTERY of knowledge can make you FAIR game for a putdown or 3 in the same work day.

And this is  because, while I continue to wait for the BASIC improvements to take place with media; such as copying and sending photos and recording or listening to music—the same PROBLEMS and limitations stay the same even as the bells and whistles continue to HURL us into new brave worlds of banal distractibility and instant triviality.

My considered opinion on all this is that computers have already FAILED me when it matters most–lo these past 20 years and deserve an F report card.  It wasn’t me.  It was them.  I held up my end of the bargain with coming up new ideas.

I still wait for megabytes to safely transport more than one PHOTO on an email or to send a power point show.  I still wait to send videos reliably while millions of parents effortlessly send videos of their kids taking their first steps on Facebook every second of every day.

The MACHINE folks would NEVER say such a statement.  They are the same folks who had all the answers in Biology lab while I tripped and acted the fool.

And what we are left with is the COMPUTER side camp of experts who WALTZ in for a quick fix on some uttered problem and then WALTZ back out saying something very simple like “you just have to open your blah blah browser on the tool bar and click twice on the left side of your mouse while simultaneously rubbing your belly and saying: ‘There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”

And then a NEW problem occurs minutes later after they leave.  It’s like those magical folks who you want STANDING near you when the soda machines traps your can or your car engine is not responsive.  These folks inherently seem to know how to get things to work smoothly and come back to life.  They assertively tell you something, and people like me are all “SHUCKS and gosh thanks” and then a day later the same problem or a new one occurs.

Unfortunately these are often the same “know it all’s” who also tell you AFTER THE FACT, that if you had asked them in time, they could have gotten you a better discount somewhere else much better.”

And I secretly believe that these COMPUTER camp people deep down in their core, know of the flaws and shortcomings with technology—but they would NEVER voice it.  It’s not in their best interest to do this.  They instead have to tell you some pat answer like “computers only do what you tell them to.”

So they go on the offensive and dazzle you with experimental trouble shooting—which is not the same thing as teaching you something that can last when they’re gone.

And they dish out guilt trips and intimidate as a management ploy so that LESS people beat on their doors for requests.  Many others are equally skilled at making you suppress a question for fear it might be stupid or something every other student knew already.

And folks like us are taught to be subservient and meek when daring to ask for help by a considered expert.

Even when they can’t solve my particular computer problem, I still thank them and act apologetic for taking their time and creating such a mess for them to look at.

And then it dawned on me.  Maybe it’s nothing to do with computers or the electronic age.  It’s just the heart of man.  I mean you can substitute in the objects or materials from ANY CENTURY and you would always have the same syndrome—a more assertive person trying to subdue or subjugate a less assertive one.

It’s not the computers at all right?

But maybe this realization doesn’t really do us any good anyway.

It still means that the information age greatly exacerbates this syndrome with the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS.

In many ways I see it as the real DIVIDE that exists in the world now.  Not conservatives versus liberals, rich or poor, or minority rights versus the majority.  Its people that always defend computers versus people like me, who bring up their disillusion.

Truth be told–the root of it all may just be the general helplessness I feel.  No matter if I do something good on the computer or get stymied by it—it always seems very arbitrary and I never feel like I can take any CREDIT for anything.

No matter how much we try to STAR ourselves in some Facebook posting, the more helpless I feel in not being able to take any credit.  It’s the opposite of the peace of mind that a good carpenter feels after wiping his calloused hands together after building a great piece of furniture.

And with the rapid fire changes always brewing, once I get comfortable with a tool bar or cell phone function, I find that I’ve been upgraded into some totally different arrangement that feels alien to me.

FINAL—“I’m Fed Up and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore!”

But I’m afraid, knowing my luck, what really might happen if I shout TOO loud on my soap box is this—I will announce the formation of some MAN defense league and state some luddite style protest for de-emphasizing computers over people.  And then a gigantic groundswell of the latest, freshest young adult generations will RISE up simultaneously to denounce me.  For I will then discover, much too late, that they have in fact EVOLVED into the NEXT hybrid age of MAN/COMPUTERS.  They already know something I was loathe to admit or see—computers merely represent the dreams and visions of people as an extension of the soul.  There is no schism of man versus machine.

Computers are as human and folky with people FINGERPRINTS all over them as basket weaving or making your own homespun clothes right?  Just like Segway’s, tidy bowls, and GInsu knives, they aren’t going anywhere so we may as well get used to it.

They sprung from our own imagination.

People like me are just reactionaries who missed the boat.  We never got the word that Lindbergh actually crossed the ocean successfully and that the world is NOT flat!

But I suspect that I may be up against much MORE than just that.

For soon, with the new continual merging of technology with mankind—there will be—drum roll——- brand new MAN/MACHINE HYBRIDS that will have their little hand held devices become so tiny and unobtrusive as to be sewn or stitched into the owners body.  Case in point—head sets for talking and listening to news or entertainment, will eventually be even more UNDETECTABLE as they will be permanently (like a tattoo) embedded in the consumers inner ear.  As the logical outcome of GPS directions, this new amalgam race will think of their bodies not just as temples, but as gigantic BAR CODES for quick payments and identification without needing to pull out hand to hand currency in public.

Unfortunately as this is a democracy and society must protect itself, the government will insist on having a competing computer CHIP in a different part of your body too, for the usual reasons—to monitor terrorist activity, alert you to any evidence of IDENTITY THEFT, or punish you for any possible infractions of DISTRACTED DRIVING—although this may not prove to be necessary as we may have DRIVERLESS cars by then—in which case we can all swipe and flick and type away with impunity and NEVER EVER notice where we are!

ALAS–I will never make it to this heaven on earth—this synthesis of MAN and MACHINE.  By then I will have willed myself into some kind of self-imposed DEMENTIA so that I can take myself out of the running for all these new advances.  And you will once again firmly in the MAN camp—living in a field in a tent.  I will be completely helpless with no marketable skills–or even survival skills, but at least I can rest my tired old mind and let the rest of the world worry about connecting and communicating at RECORD speed!

And I will spend what’s left of my life HOARDING newspapers, books and old records, and every tangible thing from my past I can hold on to, while the rest of the MAN/MACHINE hybrid world gets more streamlined until the very act of THINKING becomes an official, and very public online release.

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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