Thursday, September 8, 2011

a rant from Ben Arnold

An Anti-Gadget Rant

While I am an Electrical Engineer and appreciate the imagination and design and engineering that go into the various  electronic gizmos of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, I am not, however, enamored of owning anything more than the basics.

For myself, the absolutely necessary basics consist of a single CRT television, a stereo, a landline telephone and a desktop computer, the latter insinuating itself into my life only in the last ten years or so.

I have no need or desire for a cell phone, but, if I did, I would purchase the most basic telephone available.   Since I have never owned a cell phone, I have never Tweeted or Texted and find both to be moronic activities, at best, and dangerous.  I say dangerous not only because of the microwaves being beamed through one’s brain, but mainly because of the distraction involved if one is being used while conducting another, more important activity, such as walking or driving.

I wonder how many people have walked into telephone poles while concentrating on their phone conversations or texting?  Possibly dangerous, of course, but while driving even more so.

I was sent a number of photographs via email by a friend.  While I’ve described it to others and warned them of its gruesomeness, not a single person dared to have me Forward it to them.   Nobody wanted to see it.   The photos were of the aftermath of a man who was texting while driving and drove underneath the aft end of a truck at high speed.

The photos were apparently taken by a police photographer or some other person allowed to take such photos.  The first half dozen photos were simply of a mangled vehicle and one couldn’t really see much other than twisted metal and plastic and rubber.  Then came the Sender’s warning about the next few photos.  The deceased was not yet in a body bag, neither half of him.

He was bisected at the waist.  Enough said?

While I’ve discovered the incredible usefulness of personal computers, I seriously doubt the wisdom of basing elementary school education with and on computers.  In other words, I believe the actual basics of education should be taught old school, so to speak, before moving on to using computers as the tools they are meant to be.  Professional educators need to determine at what point the computers become part of the educational process.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if we had some kind of worldwide cataclysm which rendered our sources of power useless.  Meaning we’ve lost the use of electricity.  Perhaps we’ve had many scientists and engineers survive and we’re depending on them to help rebuild our infrastructure.  The computers would be useless and how many of us engineers remember how to use our slide rules ?  I remember a few of the basics and, of course, we might have textbooks survive to which we could refer, but we could not depend on anything electric – at least not initially – to help us in our designs.

This is, of course, totally speculative and perhaps unlikely, but…

I am greatly impressed with personal computers and have learned much using them and have reunited with dozens – perhaps hundreds – of old friends and classmates.  They are incredibly useful tools, but one needs to know the basics of any subject before they become useful in furthering one’s knowledge.

An amusing anecdote from my college days:  One of our classmates (who consistently made the lowest grades in class) bought one of the first ever handheld scientific calculators - an HP, I believe – which sold for about $500 at the time.    (I can buy an even better one, now, for less than $20.)  One of our professors (the one who hosts our reunion parties) took note of this fellow’s calculator and asked the class if he should be allowed to use it for tests.  We voted to allow him to use it, but he still made the lowest grades.  The point of this is:  If you do not know how to set up a problem, the computer will be of no use whatsoever.    In my classmate’s defense, he was not dumb, but he was a bit of an entrepreneur and had a number of side interests which kept him from devoting his full attention to his studies.  It’s still a good story.

As for all the other electronic gadgets one might consider, I have little use for any of them.  I toyed (literally) with an early Nintendo, for a time, until I got bored with it.  I was a top player of Pacman at the local Lums.

I love Classic Rock, so a stereo is a necessity for me.    I’ve downloaded more than a thousand songs from the late sixties and early seventies and have them on more than fifty CDs.   I’ve discovered many old TV shows and movies online and I watch many of them, from their Pilot episodes to their Series Finales.  There are a few current TV shows that I watch religiously, but if I miss an episode, I can always catch it later online.   As for the telephone, I receive few calls other than telemarketers and a misguided bill collector (apparently, several different people dreamed up a false number, mine, when applying for something) with numerous phone numbers, so I use one other gadget, Caller ID, to avoid wasting my time in picking up.

When PCs first came out, I had several friends who went into the business of selling the things, but they were truly useless back then.   When I’d ask what purpose they would serve me, the answer would often be “To keep your recipes in and your address book.”   It was twenty years later before I decided it was time to get one for myself and it has almost taken the place of the television and the telephone and, to a lesser degree, the stereo.  Should I wish to waste a little time, I can even play games on it.

I can’t even begin to list all the other little gadgets out there, offshoots of the telephone, the gaming consoles, the television and the computer, but I simply have no use for the vast majority of them.  I’ll stick to the basics, thank you.

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