Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

21st CENTURY The “Virtual Century”

The “Virtual Century”
And why I hate it.

By Jack Otto


I am a 20th century dinosaur, trapped in a Century, and a Millennium, not of my making, and not to my liking. My species should probably be extinct by now.
I know that we old timers long for the “good old days”, and they were good old days because we were young and full of energy expecting every tomorrow to be better than today. Our brains were alert and our memory banks uncluttered. There are various reasons for my discomfort and anxiety about this Century. Some of them are:


With all the marvelous, sophisticated and overwhelming communicative devices available today, why do we so seldom understand each other? We have cell phone, lap top, texting pad, e-mail, GPS, ipod, palm pilot, u-tube, blogs, facebook, twitter, cam-corder, cell phone photos & movies, and several I am not aware of. (What’s a “palm pixie?) What we don’t have is eye contact, face to face conversation and LISTENING. There is such a thing as non-verbal communication. Sometimes the facial expressions tell more than words.
When I was a child, when you lifted the phone, the first thing you heard was a human voice saying “number please”. Now, there are books written telling how to trick the robot recording to permit you to talk to “someone with a pulse”.
Recently my vacuum cleaner needed repairs, within warranty, so I called the maker. I went through three menus and was put on hold. After 10 minutes, (20 “your call is important…”) I was disconnected. Next day I tried again for 10 minutes and gave up. I visited their website without success. So I called Sears, who sold it to me. After two attempts and four rounds of “menus” I talked to a young man with a thick accent, who gave me the number to call for repairs. I called. I got, “the number you have reached is out of service…) Actually, the number he gave was only one digit off.
How often have you been told, “OK, I’ll meet you, there at 7; 15.” And by 8 o’clock you realize he isn’t coming and didn’t have the courtesy to tell you beforehand?
Have you ever been told, “We’ll be there Tuesday, 10 AM to lay your new carpet”, and you waited, and called at 2 PM to find that the carpet has not left the factory, in Alabama, yet, and nobody informed anyone, (much less us), about it?
Have you ever been told, “Get here as soon as you can, because the doctor has hospital hours right after your visit, then hurried and waited two hours to see him
In 2007, in Wichita, we read about the man who spent seven months in jail accused of stealing $2.11 worth if hot dogs. He was jailed, awaiting trial, under $ 100,000 bail, for failing to comply with a summons he never received! Somewhere along the way a policeman or a prosecutor or a judge should have looked past the paper at the facts and said “what!!”?


In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, Big Brother, (the government) had two-way televisions in every room of every home in the land. There was no place to hide! In modern society, little Susie, in the second grade, has a cell phone with a GPS chip in it. Her mother knows, at any time, where she is, and can contact her any time she chooses. She is never alone. Her dad takes his lap top to his favorite fishing spot, so he can contact, and be contacted by, his boss or his other boss. ( aka; wife). If you take your lap top with you on vacation, what are you vacating from? If I go out in the woods to get away from it all, why should I want to bring it all with me?
The most “popular” crime today is, of course, Identity theft. The experts keep looking for ways to avoid being “hacked”, while the hackers are just as clever and far more numerous. Anyone who thinks the information on his computer is secure is living in a fantasy world. How many people have revealed their credit card numbers to a friendly voice promising good deeds for needy persons? How many folks almost got to be millionaires by sending a modest sum, ultimately, to Nigeria? I believe it probably was Adam who told Abel, If it looks like it’s too good to be true….”.
Recently, the TV news reported a school district, in an eastern state, issued lap tops to the students. Each one had a tiny “spy” camera capable of intruding into the family’s home. If that isn’t Big Brother, what is?
It’s tough to be a criminal with surveillance cameras everywhere, witnesses carrying cell phone cameras and with DNA identification.
It’s tough to be a teen driver when our vehicle has a “black box” that tells how fast you were going and how hard you were swerving when you had that accident. I’m told it can even report to dad how fast and how far you went.
It’s tough to be a cop, when you stop a vehicle, and your every move is recorded on your vehicle’s camera.
These intrusions on our privacy are not all bad, of course, but they are not all good either. With each gain in security there is a loss of freedom.


I have a light switch on the wall in my room. It serves one purpose. I can look at it and see it is turned on. When I turn it off I can see it, hear it and feel it as I throw the switch. And the room is dark immediately. I have “switch spots” on my microwave oven. When I push on these spots I cannot see, feel or hear anything. I cannot see if I have turned it off or on. Whether I am turning the device on or off may depend on whether a neighbor switch spot is activated. Sometimes I miss the spot and have to do it all over again.
I had a 1998 20th Century car. It worked well, did what I wanted it to do. I was in charge. A stupid woman rammed it and destroyed it. I now have a 2003 21st Century car. I like my new car very much. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and nice looking. But thinks it is in control, and maybe it is. It tells me when to change oil, when a door is ajar, when my tire pressure is low or] I didn’t secure the gas cap. I must teach the little transmitter whether to blink the lights, beep, or both when I push the “lock” button. It has a trip odometer that doesn’t show unless you push the button for less than 1.5 seconds.After 1.5 seconds it “zeros out. It has a radio console which has six layers of set buttons. Two AM, two FM and two satellite radio. Each has six set points for a total of 36 choices. I can’t think of four stations I would like to hear. Some day I’ll probably hit a tree while trying to adjust the radio. It even fights me when I try to hook up my seat belt.
We had a toaster oven that worked well until it broke down. Two settings: toast & bake. Of course it can’t be repaired, and that model is obsolete, so we had to buy a new one that cost twice as much, with three interlocking dials, poor adjustment of toast darkness and a timer that only allows 30 minutes of baking.
When I turn off my old electronic devices, they go dark and I know they are turned off. My newer devices, when I turn them off, show a little red light to indicate that they are off. Who needs it?


It all began, sort of, with disposable diapers. Then came napkins, bottles, pie pans, medical syringes & scalpels, and then cameras and cell phones. And, finally items like computer printers. (Whenever my printer malfunctioned, it was always cheaper to buy a “new and improved” model.) The computer- wise industries are creating “new and improved” devices so fast we are almost forced to scrap items that still work. I had my 20th Century 8mm movie film converted to VCR tapes. VCR players are now obsolete and soon will be unavailable. I could convert them to DVD medium, which, of course, will soon be replaced by another “new and improved” system. It seems that, every year or two, a revolutionary computer device comes along, rendering obsolete almost everything that preceded it.
Last year we replaced our Microwave, toaster oven, George Forman cooker, well pump and even my car, because it’s cheaper to replace than repair. This is partly because they are not designed to be repairable, but mostly because a repair man here gets $25 to $50 per hour and the Chinese child who built it might get $25 to$50 per month. The Chinese, by the way, are busy recycling old computer parts, while exposing themselves to deadly toxins.
I read in the paper, ( 2-18-10), about a teen age girl who made a high-tech power point presentation to explain why she MUST have this newer game to replace the old one she got 6 weeks ago! This is the 21st Century mind-set.
Don’t look to the government for help. In one giant move, they have rendered obsolete almost every TV set in the nation, (perhaps 100 million, who knows), by going to a mandatory “digital” broadcast system. We had to: get new TV’s, get a converter for each set, or join cable, direct TV, etc. And the “improved” quality of picture? It gets “pixellated”, interrupted and frozen far more than the old system. (at our house anyway).


Virtual Entertainment; You never have to leave home. With x-games, avitars, (whatever they are), and Wii systems, you can kill bad guys, pretend to play ping pong, pretend to exercise, pretend to do research, order a pizza or buy a car, without moving your lap top off your lap. You can download almost anything these days. One hand held device can download and play up to 3000,000 tunes. I estimated that it would take slightly less than 12 years to hear them all at 3 minutes per tune.

Our quadriplegic son, Paul kept us busy. We went; To the Coliseum to see the Wichita Wings play soccer. The Greyhound Park, to watch the dogs run. Eureka Downs, to watch the horses. Joyland, to watch the revelers. To the Crown Uptown dinner theater. As of today, the Coliseum,(aka Britt Brown Arena, )is gone, the Wings are gone, the dogs are gone, the horses are gone, and the Crown Uptown is hanging on for dear life. Why? Because no one goes out anymore.
Virtual Travels; Commercials for Chrysler’s Town and Country flaunt the two DVD screens and a table for playing cards, texting, blogging, etc. I trust they also have windows in case some nut case wants to look at the scenery along the way. They are “protecting” these children from having to experience the world around them
Global Positioning System, (GPS), is an extremely valuable and amazing lifesaving tool. It has saved many lives. But will this crutch destroy our ability to find our way home when we are lost without GPS? Will our children be able to find their way home from school.
During the recent “blizzards of 2010”, a man was reported lost for 3 days, stuck, in the snow, in a corn field because the GPS told him to turn left onto a road that was no longer there.

We are raising a generation of computer “geeks” who:
Can find anything on the web, but have never seen the inside of a library.
Excel at geometry, algebra and calculus, but couldn’t “make change” at McDonald’s.
Sit across the table from each other texting each other.
Can’t pick up three items at the grocery store without a cell phone “in their ear”.
Can make reservations, watch movies or buy a car with their smart phone, but can’t find their way home from school without their GPS.
Texting. It may just be the worst thing to happen to mankind since the black plague. It may trigger the end of grammar and punctuation in the written word. It may also portend the end of honesty in the classroom. Why study when it is so easy to text the correct answers from desk to desk with so slim a chance of getting caught. Don’t ask me why cell phones are allowed in the classroom.
Unless I am kidnapped and can text 911 without getting caught, or overheard, I shall never be caught texting. Why would anyone rather type, (in garbled English), than talk?
A recent report implies that texting while driving makes you 20 times as likely to have an accident as when not texting. Well Duh!


This country was made great, not by people who could do three things at once, but by people who did one thing at a time, and did it well. The builders and dreamers have been replaced by merchants and schemers. The American work ethic has been replaced, in part, by virtually distracted zombies going through the motions while listening to rap “music” and texting each other.
Recently I read about an employee sueing his employer for reading his “personal” e-mail which was written on a company computer, on company time. I remember when writing personal notes on company time was cause for disciplinary action.
Have you ever stood at the “window of a doctor’s office, or a bank and wondered if you are invisible, while he, or she, shuffled papers or talked on the phone? A simple ‘I’ll be right with you”, could relieve the tension.
Recently, (In California, I believe), two passenger trains collided because the engineer didn’t see the signal light. He was texting at the time.
To the north of us, a passenger airplane flew more than 100 miles past the designated landing site, losing contact with air controllers. The pilot and the co-pilot were both using unauthorized lap tops at the time.
These are extremely serious irresponsible acts by people in very responsible positions!


The new Arena, capacity 15000 seats recently sold out completely in 15 minutes, thanks to computerized placement. Sold out in more ways than one! Immediately after, tickets were offered on ebay at prices up to $1000 per ticket. This was supposed to be the people’s Arena, not a corporate money making machine
The State of Kansas hopes to punish taxpayers who file on paper. It’s $25 to file, plus $10 if you want a paper refund check, and an additional $25 if you need a set of instructions.
On Feb 22, 2010 The Eagle announced that all students, statewide, will take their assessment tests on computers, no ifs ands or buts. Maybe they will never have to learn to write with an old fashioned pencil.

Ps; Maybe I should continue this diatribe as a journal, as there seems to be something new almost every day. Today, 02,-24-2010, the Wichita Eagle bemoaned the fact that every tornado alarm in the County, (and who knows how many Counties in the nation), will be rendered obsolete and unusable starting Jan 1, 2013, because the FCC will no longer allow them to broadcast on the existing frequency. The County must choose tear down the system or go to considerable expense to upgrade it. It will cost $300,000 to adapt to the “new and improved” analog system, or $850,000 to adapt to the “new and really improved” digital system. Hope it goes better than the “digital” TV broadcasting “adjustment” of 2009.

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