All Systems Down: Progressive Pains

Jaime Coyne

Today, my computer died. Well, actually, it works if you restart it, but you then have to save things compulsively (ctrl+S, anyone?) in case it spontaneously gives out again. I was eventually going to have to get it fixed no matter how long I put it off, so I reluctantly surrendered my laptop to SOURCe.

Now, as I sit in front of one of the library’s computers, listening to the guy with the headphones audibly mumble in a foreign language, wishing the two friends on my right would not sit next to each other, and wondering why the guy to my left is reading a book in front of a public computer, I feel confirmed in my already strong belief: progress is bad.

Back in the day, the computer was named for its derivation: to compute. In my dad’s old French dictionary, I believe they reference the calculator in that entry. Yet today our computers can do everything but burp and breast-feed us. We converse with the rest of civilization through them (God forbid we actually meet and interact), we ascertain an ungodly amount of useless information, and some of the savvier members of our species use them to partake in technological warfare (anyone else have Max write on their Facebook wall that someone has a secret crush on them — several times?). Computers even compete for our jobs. And now my life is temporarily a living hell, because who among us can properly function without a computer constantly at his disposal?

It isn’t just computers, either. Do any of us know what to do in a crisis without our cell phones? And yet cell phones are an incredibly recent development. Think back to Saved By the Bell, a quintessential 90s kids’ show. Zack had a monstrosity he lugged around — a glorified cordless phone. Less than 20 years ago, that was our impressive advance in phone technology! Our parents and grandparents didn’t have cell phones growing up, and even our generation didn’t start using them en masse until around middle school. And yet, by now, finding a good old fashioned (albeit creepy) phone booth is nearly impossible, because so few people are using them that it is not profitable to maintain them.

So what would we do if our car broke down while our cell phone was dead? My guess would be, freak out. People have gotten themselves out of this situation without that click-of-a-button connection to the outside world countless times, but we’ve never had to.

We’ve grown completely reliant on our cell phones and computers. We are literally at a loss for what to do when they fail us. (And they do fail us. I’m hardly the first person to have their computer crash.) What all this technological “progress” does, in fact, is make us lose our resourcefulness. We are teaching ourselves to be helpless in any society but our own. So I will continue to glance hopefully toward the IT desk for the man who will appear, triumphantly holding up my fixed computer. Here, he is king.