Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wipe your feet on me. I deserve it.

Back in February I wrote about an alt-weekly called Doormat that used to be published in Charleston, South Carolina. I had run across an issue from the fall of '94 while I was home for Christmas and going through a box of stuff at my parents' house. I was struck by comments in two different columns about technology circa 1994, specifically how the Internet was starting to become a household word. But when I went online to find out what became of Doormat, I found nothing.

The other day I received an e-mail from the writer of one of those columns, whose writing I'd called "mediocre." The column in question was mediocre—I assumed he was still in college when he wrote it—but could I have done any better in my early 20s? No.

I used to think some of the columns in the
Red and Black student paper at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, were pointless exercises in whining about how hard the library is to use when you've waited until the last second to start a research paper, but I know what it's like to be under the pressure of a deadline, and sometimes you come up empty. And even now, at 33, I don't always make my point clear when I write.

The Doormat writer contacted me because he wasn't sure what my point was in writing about his former labor of love. Was I saying I was glad it no longer existed or that it deserved its comeuppance in the digital age since it was wary of new technology? Not at all.

"Or, here in 2009, were you acknowledging that the ever-expanding horizon of modern communications is foreign and undesirable to you," he asked, "and in so doing, were you identifying with our 1994 desire to eschew innovation, in favor of the more comfortable status quo?" Yes and no.

My last paragraph in that February 6 entry was weak, no doubt about it:
But technology seems to have changed so rapidly since '94 that I'd imagine there's a ten-year-old somewhere in the world right now saying, "Now I can program the DVR with my phone? I just learned how to program the DVR period." Then again, probably not—I'm just old. The upside is that I'm thankful it's not November 1994 anymore.

I meant to go back and expand on that paragraph or just fix it in general, but I forgot, which is unfortunate—it's not smart to call someone's writing from their 20s mediocre and then churn out some unfinished mediocrity of my own in my 30s.

In November of '94 I was a freshman in college at the North Carolina School of the Arts. It was a terrible school year for several different reasons, and I ended up transferring to UGA the next fall. That's why I'm glad it's not November of '94 anymore. I should've just said that, but I was trying to avoid whining. Don't get me wrong—I'm great at it—but the first year of this blog is full of self-absorbed bitching and moaning, and I want to avoid that now whenever I can.

I worked for an alt-weekly for five and a half years here in Chicago before being laid off in January. Every newspaper in the world has been hurt badly by profit-draining websites like Craigslist and consumers who now expect news to be free on the Internet. They still read newspapers online, but they don't want to pay for the content in print, and if people don't pick up a paper, advertisers won't want to waste their time placing ads there. Back in 1994, of course, the Internet didn't pose any kind of threat to newspapers.

For the first eight-or-so years after college I didn't feel older, but technology mercilessly dated my memories. How'd we go from blank tapes to "burned" CDs in that amount of time? Technology seems to have advanced so much since the late '90s, when no one I knew owned a cell phone. Now some people have no idea what it feels like to have both hands free while walking down the street.

But maybe in the summer of '69 my parents were still getting used to the idea of commercial air travel right as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Life just speeds up at a certain age even as it simultaneously slows down: we settle into careers, we begin long-term romantic relationships, we raise children. And if we blink, a year has gone by without much having changed, or so it seems.

New technology can make certain things in life more convenient—the remote control, the laptop computer, the cell phone—while making us lazier at the same time and more scattered in our thoughts, e.g., writing e-mail or typing out text messages while watching TV. So yes, I somewhat miss the status quo of 1994, when I was a pretty smart guy because I knew how to program a VCR and make a decent mix tape for a girl. But I also enjoy having an iPod and being able to access the Internet at a coffee shop and improve my writing through a blog that people can see and critique and make me think about the words and thoughts I'm casting out into the world.

After all, if it weren't for new technology, the guy from Doormat never would've found my mediocre blog entry.

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