If there is a place in the universe farthest away from the pinnacle of socio-technological evolution, then it must be the town I live in. As proud as it may be to hold the title ‘Belgiums oldest city’, its inhabitants tend to hold on to ancient times (technologically) instead of rolling around on Segways, while steering their quad-copters form their cellphones. I would not dare to go as far as to call this a digital ‘backwater’ town … but instead let the anecdote speak for itself.
This week marked a dark chapter in this towns history as the last DVD rental ‘entertainment store’ went out of business. This behemoth of ancient times has finally fallen under the crushing weight of pay-per-view services offered by Belgium’s 2 major ISP’s. Perhaps bit-torrent also had something to do with it but … in this town that impact must have been pretty moderate. As we walked by the empty storefront I watched in amazement as a car pulled up and out hopped a 30 something soccer-mom, cradling a collection of dvd’s in her hands. She walked up to the store (That was now completely and utterly empty) and started rattling the door. She looked around in confusion and peered through the windows trying to see any kind of movement. Since I’m horrible at observing people unnoticed, the caught me staring at her. “Its Closed !” she pointed out. Before I aptly wanted to congratulate her at pointing out the painfully obvious she stuck out her precious DVD collection. “I have to return these !” she said helplessly, (as if I was going to be her knight in shining armor ). “Well, you are in luck, I said” The store closed up this weekend, so you can get to keep those dvd’s. What I expected to get was a response like “Damn ! Lucky me then .. too bad about the store”, followed by an unlikely but possible Obama Style fist bump from a curvy mom of three .. but that didn’t happen. Instead there was this look of utter desperation as she babbled “Then where am I gonna rent my dvd’s ?”. Now this is a valid question you might pose to any Noob or lamen .. but asking ME where to ‘Rent DVD’s’ is like asking a professor in theoretical quantum particle theory how you can “milk your own cow”. Was she kidding ? My suggestions of “Renting stuff online” ( I didn’t even get started on ‘downloading’) did not give her any solace either. And the fact that one of the DVD’s she had in her hands was a copy of the FIRST ‘Bridget Jones diary’ made me realize this person was not very culturaly savvy either. The kind of person who still thinks ’50 shades’ is to be considered hardcore porn. Fact of the matter is : This person was a techno troglodyte. Somebody for whome the fast moving pace of our digital age is something that does not quite come up on their radar. I saw her grabbing her phone (A cheap flip phone) and contacting the troglodyte main cave to report in that their oracle of visual entertainment had just gone dark. The non-productive conversation with the mouth-breathing consort did not bring any solutions either so .. for a split second I saw her think about “just leaving the dvd’s at the door”. Then a splinter of common sense (or social awkwardness) resulted in her tossing the dvd’s back in the car, shrugging at me .. and driving back to the land where people still buy books on paper, record shows on VHS, buy a full cd because they like one single track, read porn from magazines and rent DVD’s in store.
Oh bless you digital troglodytes, for whom the painfully persistent pace of progress still seems to be nothing more then a slow trod. For you are the last hope of the record shops, the TV-repair men, the stores that sell you a mega expensive cover for your smartphone because you don’t know about this thing called ebay. I tip my hat to you as you actually believe the stuff about your mobile phone plan the guy in the store is trying to tell you. I cringe as you click the banner on some random webpage that says your computer is infected and you need to fix it NOW. I bid you a safe journey as you go shopping for your new computer in a place that also sells washing machines. And yes, I sometimes even want to pummel your face with a blueberry muffin as you ask me if I can “Make phone calls” with my iPad, you still are adorable. Adorable .. techno troglodytes… So as I twist and turn in bed, thoughts of the NSA sniffing the internet keeping me awake. As I ponder the question what will happen to the internet if the DNS servers ever go down due to a massive DOS attack. As I spend hours comparing specs about the new intel CPU’s for my next gadget … I wonder about the simple life in your cave .. perhaps old school isn’t that bad after all. DO you have Wifi over there ? Probably not yet.
Does your office look like a Borg hive ?
One of the biggest challenges in the daily life of a cyber-citizen must be .. Simplicity. Simplicity in using technology , simplicity in integrating technology , simplicity in hardware and software .. and most importantly : Simplicity in thought.
Just think of the classic example. Somewhere along the way it happened. Your ever so tidy laptop bag seams to have been impregnated by the lords of chaos them selves. What started out as a slim shiny Dell laptop-bag has now become an atrocity. Like a grotesque pregnant elephant its innards have now swollen up with meters of cables , extra floppy drives, cd’s, extension cords , paper, books and so forth. As you watch the heaving husk that , due to being terribly overweight, drags your left shoulder to the ground and makes you look like Quasimodo, you think .. Where did it all start ?
But when you look at the mess that is your office , you see a reoccurring pattern, Your office, once setup with the help of your girlfriend to be a place of fen shue , now has the characteristics of a Borg cube after a high speed collision with a scrap barge. Cables , monitors, paper , books, post it notes.. keyboards overlapping keyboards, mouse-cables in suffocating deadlocks, flashing hubs and switches.. and loads of empty coffee-cups.
The big drawback of being on the edge of real an cyberspace is that you learn a lot of new things everyday. There is so much to see, to find out, to try , to test, to use .. Everyday something comes along that takes your fancy and you add it to the list .. stick it in your bag , add it to your start menu. And pretty soon you have an immense collection of tools and toys that by no means contribute to your effectivity.
What i regularly do is a ‘technological reset” where I look at all the things I have and think about ways to work more effective. For example : My 4 old test computers that served as my loyal test-battery (and drove my fiancé AND our electrical bill up the walls) have now been replaced by 4 virtual machines running on one computer, My entire collection of Windows versions have been scaled down to fit on one single dvd. My overweight software collection bag has been reduced to one portable USB hard drive and so on. Its very important to find the balance between keeping up with what is new , and being overwhelmed by hardware, software, information and more. The challenge is to analise what you have , and try to distill it into a workable simple concept. This means letting some things go , or combining tools, hardware or work-methods, but this is the only way to let technology work for you .. instead of the other way around. Take for example my current podcasting setup. It started out with one computer and a microphone , but due to the demands of my podcast, has grown into : A microphone stand , A microphone, A pop screen , headphones, a Mixer , My Macbook for show-notes and skype conversations , a second computer to play music or background tracks (using a USB DJ console) and finally a Linux system to record everything on. I must say its very versatile BUT also very complex. I am momentarily contemplating how to simplify the whole project. This will not only get me a cleaner office , it must also give me a cleaner way to do my thing : thus simplifying technology. The “how to record skype conversation” issue has been solved as I found this little gem for my macbook and as a replacement (or quite probably an “addition” to my studio setup I was looking at the Samson C01u microphone with a table stand . Together with my Macbook it will give me a portable high quality studio, that can be put away at a moments notice. Using Garageband and open source software like Audacity this wil greatly simplify my podcast production.
So you see my friends, Living with technology is not about what you add .. but what you leave out in order to be as effective as possible. This will help you in working faster, thinking clearer, have more time to think and respond to creative challenges. Downloading tool after tool , installing pc after pc is easy , its looking THROUGH the technology in order to see how you can destil it, simplify it .. and tune it into your way of life.