Saturday, January 06, 2007

The benefits of a slide rule
Why video games are better than reading
Some detail on the high quality future

Excellent discussion at the Archdruid's place about slide rules, bringing out four aspects of their nature which exemplify sustainable technology principles: durable, independent, replicable and transparent. Go read.

Then at Caritas a deeply intriguing defence of video-games vis-a-vis reading books. It's a fanciful conceit, of course, and I'm not going to give up reading books, but it does rather reinforce the point that we will relate to text in a very different way in the future - which is why I think (sorry Neil) that the Protestant churches will split between the catholic-minded and the fundamentalist.

Something relevant to this I've been meaning to quote for a long time (from Pirsig's ZMM):

The welder is in, an old man in his sixties or seventies, and he looks at me disdainfully...a complete reversal from the waitress. I explain about the chain guard and after a while he says, "I'm not taking it off for you. You'll have to take it off."

I do this and show it to him, and he says, "It's full of grease."

I find a stick out in back under the spreading chestnut tree and scrape all the grease into a trash barrel. From a distance he says, "There's some solvent in that pan over there." I see the flat pan and get out the remaining grease with some leaves and the solvent.

When I show it to him he nods and slowly goes over and sets the regulators for his gas torch. Then he looks at the tip and selects another one. Absolutely no hurry. He picks up a steel filler rod and I wonder if he's actually going to try to weld that thin metal. Sheet metal I don't weld. I braze it with a brass rod. When I try to weld it I punch holes in it and then have to patch them up with huge blobs of filler rod. "Aren't you going to braze it?" I ask.

"No," he says. Talkative fellow.

He sparks the torch, and sets a tiny little blue flame and then, it's hard to describe, actually dances the torch and the rod in separate little rhythms over the thin sheet metal, the whole spot a uniform luminous orange-yellow, dropping the torch and filler rod down at the exact right moment and then removing them. No holes. You can hardly see the weld. "That's beautiful," I say.

"One dollar," he says, without smiling. Then I catch a funny quizzical look within his glance. Does he wonder if he's overcharged? No, something else -- lonely, same as the waitress. Probably he thinks I'm bullshitting him. Who appreciates work like this anymore?

We're packed and out of the motel at just about check-out time and are soon into the coastal redwood forest, across out of Oregon into California. The traffic is so heavy we don't have time to look up. It's turning cold and grey and we stop and put on sweaters and jackets. It's still cold, somewhere in the low fifties, and we think winter thoughts.

Lonely people back in town. I saw it in the supermarket and at the Laundromat and when we checked out from the motel. These pickup campers through the redwoods, full of lonely retired people looking at trees on their way to look at the ocean. You catch it in the first fraction of a glance from a new face...that searching look...then it's gone.

We see much more of this loneliness now. It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much.

The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here it's reversed.

It's the primary America we're in. It hit the night before last in Prineville Junction and it's been with us ever since. There's this primary America of freeways and jet flights and TV and movie spectaculars. And people caught up in this primary America seem to go through huge portions of their lives without much consciousness of what's immediately around them. The media have convinced them that what's right around them is unimportant. And that's why they're lonely. You see it in their faces. First the little flicker of searching, and then when they look at you, you're just a kind of an object. You don't count. You're not what they're looking for. You're not on TV.

But in the secondary America we've been through, of back roads, and Chinaman's ditches, and Appaloosa horses, and sweeping mountain ranges, and meditative thoughts, and kids with pinecones and bumblebees and open sky above us mile after mile after mile, all through that, what was real, what was around us dominated. And so there wasn't much feeling of loneliness. That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly over-generalizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true.

Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness, since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices...TV, jets, freeways and so on...but I hope it's been made plain that the real evil isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity. It's the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology, that produces the evil. That's why I went to so much trouble to show how technology could be used to destroy the evil. A person who knows how to fix motorcycles...with less likely to run short of friends than one who doesn't. And they aren't going to see him as some kind of object either. Quality destroys objectivity every time.

Or if he takes whatever dull job he's stuck with...and they are all, sooner or later, dull...and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he's likely to discover that he becomes a much more interesting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too. And not only the job and him, but others too because the Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn't think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. God, I don't want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There's a place for them but they've got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We've had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it's just about depleted. Everyone's just about out of gumption. And I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource...individual worth. There are political reactionaries who've been saying something close to this for years. I'm not one of them, but to the extent they're talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they're right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do.

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