Posts Tagged ‘Cell Phones’

We Don’t Want to Know

March 20, 2014

Yesterday I was returning home on my bicycle from an anti-growth rally, rolling quickly downhill, when a runner suddenly burst out into the street from between two parked cars. She was simultaneously running and talking on her cell phone and didn’t see me. I came very close to hitting her. It strikes me as a near perfect image of something I see happening.

I believe we’re heading for catastrophe. Not just America, but this whole global system that we’ve promulgated — insisted upon, really. Everyone’s hooked now. They talk about revolutions in communication, finance, energy, education, entertainment, and blah blah blah. Everything is happening very, very quickly. We’re making all these changes without carefully considering them. Anyone who would suggest that we slow it down and think it over first is a Luddite. It’s inevitable that one of these so-called revolutions is going to get us. You can’t keep running forward blindly, obsessed with your gadget, and not have a big accident at some point. For example, if cell phones do cause brain cancer, it’s not something most users — let alone manufacturers — want to know. Most people dismiss any evidence that suggests this is happening without even looking at it. This is what always happens before a catastrophe: People become deaf to warnings. This is happening with climate change, the weirdness of the financial world, energy usage, as well as our addiction to technology. I don’t know where it will come from, but something is going to get us.

Notes on the Empire

June 19, 2013

One of the big delusions that Americans operate under is that we live in a democratic republic. We don’t. We live in an empire. Republics and empires cannot coincide. While I wouldn’t say that the republican function has disappeared entirely, it’s clear that it has been steadily eroding over the years. One reason it hasn’t vanished entirely is that the U.S. is hampered by its self-image as a fighter for democracy and freedom. It prevents us from being nakedly imperial. We have to be more subtle than, say, the British were. I don’t think this is some kind of weird conspiracy theory. The people on the inside know it’s an empire. Here’s an excerpt from a magazine article written in 2004 for the New York Times by journalist Ron Susskind.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

A remarkably hubristic statement. I think this explains in good part what happened to Obama. His supporters, myself included, thought naively that we were working to elect someone who would return the country to its democratic roots. But empires don’t give up the ghost without an immense struggle or internal collapse. They are utterly ruthless. It’s the only way to become one. In a sense, Obama had no choice other than to go along. He would have been eliminated if he hadn’t cooperated. Still, I don’t think that’s what happened exactly. Like all of them, he was dazzled by the immense power of his position and wanted to be successful in it.

All empires collapse, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing now. We live in a period of growing decadence. You can see it in the indifference toward what’s happening to the environment, the obsession with gadgetry, the fawning over celebrities, the constant wars, the desire for ever more wealth. Because this particular empire has became a global venture, the effects are going to be more far-reaching than any previous collapse.

Last weekend I rode my bike to Mill Valley, a wealthy town in wealthy Marin County, which is just north of San Francisco. I stopped to take a break and watch the scene around me. It was warm and sunny and there were a lot of people hanging out in the outdoor cafés, eating, drinking, talking on their cell phones, laughing — having a party. I remember seeing a young guy and his girlfriend cruise by in a sports car with the top down. They looked sinister to me. I loathed what I was seeing. While so much of the rest of the world suffers—the people who make their clothing, for example—these beneficiaries of the empire continue to party and, as George Bush Sr. said, “to recreate.” Meanwhile, in the background, the insanity continues to build. Those people have no idea of the storm that’s on its way. I can’t say that I do either—not exactly. But I’m convinced that we’re living in the beginning of historical times.

A note on Edward Snowden: I don’t consider him a hero. I don’t know enough about him, and, for all I know, he has issues that, in my view, would diminish him. But I have no problem whatsoever with anything that he’s done. He is not a traitor. You cannot betray an empire.

Life Without a Cell Phone: An Addendum

June 3, 2010

I’d like to give a little more perspective on why I’m opposed to cell phones. There are several reasons (I’m not convinced they’re safe, for one thing), but most fundamental to me is that they add yet another layer of infrastructure that has to be maintained and protected. Life is so complicated now that we have very little flexibility. Because we depend on technology to do even the simplest things—check the weather, get from point A to point B—the current system has a greater claim to its self-perpetuation regardless of its worth. Tracy mentioned Peak Oil, which dovetails with my thinking. We’re heading into a period of enormous upheaval—historic times. I have no doubt about that. The less tied up we are in the fantasy of constant “progress,” the easier it will be to accomodate ourselves to the demands of the time.

Life Without a Cell Phone

May 28, 2010

Both Judy and I have been unwilling to get cell phones, and it’s created some difficult situations. Last week I had a speaking gig in St. Charles, Illinois, which is around sixty miles west of Chicago. Sitting in the airport in San Francisco waiting to board, I watched people talking on their phones, playing with their phones, caressing their phones. Maybe I misunderstand, but it often seems to me that people are sitting and staring at them trying to think of somebody to call. That strikes me as peculiar.

At O’Hare, I took a shuttle out to get a rental car. The lady at the desk asked for a phone number, and I gave her my home phone, adding that it wasn’t a cell number, that I didn’t have one—something I always feel I need to tell people now when I’m transacting business.

She said, “We have you down for an economy car. Is that correct?”


She paused and then asked, genuinely puzzled, “Is that by choice?”

“Yeah. I’m not comfortable driving large cars.”

“No. I mean the cell phone.”

“Oh, yeah. I don’t like ’em.”

She laughed as though it were the funniest thing she’d heard all day. She’d asked me the question in the same way that confirmed meat eaters ask why on earth you’d want to be a vegetarian.

After finishing at the desk, I was supposed to call the house that I was to stay in in St. Charles, to let them know I was on my way. But there was no pay phone. So I picked up the car and started driving, keeping my eyes peeled for a phone booth. Google maps had sent me on a bizarre course that I hadn’t bothered to check before leaving. It was like flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles by way of Denver. I was going down some long and slow business corridor, where I assumed it would be easy to find a pay phone, but I wasn’t having any luck at all. I stopped several times to ask, but nobody knew of any. Finally, I spotted one behind an aging gas station. I called the house, but the person on the other end couldn’t hear me at all. The phone’s speaker was broken. So I got back in the car and resumed driving. It was raining hard, growing dark, and I didn’t know the area at all. It was a little maddening. Finally, I stopped at a convenience store and asked the clerk if I could borrow her phone, which she reluctantly allowed, and I got through this time.

It was a bit of an inconvenience for everyone concerned—for me, for the store clerk, and for my host. But I still refuse to get a cell phone. I’ve already gotten tied up in too many of society’s entanglements. Getting a cell phone feels like going one step too far.

A-Bloggin’ and A-Rantin’

November 8, 2008

I’ve been somewhat hostile toward blogs and blogging. It has seemed faddish to me, I guess. I tend not to like made-up words, like blog and vegan. I’m doing this for a bunch of reasons. One of them is that I don’t hear many people saying what I want to hear said. So I have to say it myself. As I begin this, I don’t feel that I’ve found the right voice. I feel stiff. Although I’ve never been enthusiastic about the Internet, due to my work as a writer, I use it every day. I’m currently learning HTML and CSS, and I use Photoshop and Word. But I tend to believe that, overall, the Internet and computers have done more harm than good. More and more people are abandoning the real world and real community for a vicarious life of sitting in front of a monitor. How can that be good? I can’t imagine anyone writing poetry on a computer. One of my goals for the future is to be in a position where I have no computer and no telephone—just a regular old mailbox. I read an article in the New York Times about a writer in Maine, Carolyn Chute, who lives at the end of an unpaved road with no phone, no fax, and no computer. I admire her. Technological development is not the purpose of life. I don’t have a cell phone, and I never will. I think they’re intrusive, and nobody has ever convinced me that they aren’t a danger to your health. I wish they would go away.

End of rant.