Dave Gustafson, 1997
You sit down in
front of your computer and flip the "on" switch,
just like always. The machine starts buzzing and
grinding and churning out unending meaningless numbers,
just like always. But don’t be fooled… because today
will be no normal day. Soon you start to hear a strange
grinding noise that you’ve never heard before… this
catches your attention - what’s going on ? The grinding
gives way to a sickening chuncking sound, and a strange
image pops into your head of tiny men inside your computer
smashing your motherboard with sledgehammers!
Well…this can’t be good - you start to worry.
What’s wrong ?!? Strange letters and numbers dance
on the screen in a morbid medley of digital death, and
finally six simple words appear at the bottom - "Hard
Drive Failure. Insert Boot Disk." [gasp] The epitaph
of computing. Your heart sinks as you realize that,
contrary to all the advice
you received, you never made a boot disk -where’s your
"Real Men Don’t Need Boot
Disks" attitude now?! No matter how many times you
hit the "Escape" key, the monitor still stares
at you, unchanged,
cold white letters in a vacant sea of black. As a last
resort, you pray for divine help. Oh, Patron
Saint of software, help me in my time of need !!!
[Pause….] But Bill Gates never answers. You let your
swimming head fall on the keyboard, knowing that your life
as you know it is over.
So what was wrong
with that picture, besides the fact that it seemed
suspiciously like an advertisement for a
memory backup tape? The problem was that that particular
person’s life actually was over because of
a simple computer failure.
You know those science fiction movies and books where
someone’s personality can
be downloaded into a computer ? Well, that’s pretty much
what this poor guy has just done - and he lost
everything. You see, over the last few years it seems that
everyone has been struggling to transform themselves
from a normal human being into the Modern Digital Being -
the surfer of the net, the lord of e-mail, the
BMOL (that’s Big Man On Line). And with this transition
to the digital world, we’re beginning to lose touch
with the real world. People
no longer want to see what’s good, they only want to see
what’s online. But let’s face
it - the internet may not be all that we make it up to be.
Sure, people are always talking about all the wonderful
places you can go online, but where does Mr. Average, Joe
Schmoe, go when he has the world at
his fingertips? Well, nowhere. Or at least, someplace
that’s almost as good as nowhere. Because while he
could be educating and
bettering himself at "Encyclopedia Britannica
Online," he’s probably just letting his mind
idle away at some place called - are you ready for this? -
the Spam Poetry Page. At Encyclopedia Britannica,
you can read Shakespeare. At the Spam Poetry page…well,
why don’t you judge for yourself:
I compare thee to a can of SPAM?
Thou art more pink and more gelatinous.
Much ill is said about this fine "SPiced hAM"
Yet never is it called keratinous.
Sometime too hard the arteries are made
And often is the heart's beating too dim,
And every glob of fat in time is laid
Upon the waist, for Jenny Craig to trim.
So long as
men can breathe or eyes can see
So long will
SPAM's blue cans bring joy to thee."
Amusing? Sure. A worthy use of computer technology?
That’s kind of a gray area. A substitute for rea life? I
certainly hope not. So why are people so determined to
measure their lives in bits and bytes these days?
Try this: picture the world as one big 5-year old kid.
That’s about how old most of our world leaders
act in the first place, so it shouldn’t be too
difficult. Anyway, we’re collectively impatient,
immature, unable to
resolve problems on our own - and here’s the point -
we’re all suckers. So we, the big 5-year-old kid,
are walking in the proverbial toystore of material wealth,
and we see a box. We see a big, shiny box. Inside
this box, of course, is the information revolution I’ve
been talking about, but we don’t care about that,
ohhh, no. Because we know
right then and there that this is the thing to
have. In fact, we’d better get it right now
before we’re the last kid on the block to have one. So
we bug our proverbial mother, which is our collective
conscience, and make the purchase. Of course, once we have
this new toy, we completely disregard all
of our old toys (like family quality time and friends).
Another interesting phenomenon is that even if the toy
proves to be not all that
we expected, even if it lets us down, we won’t abandon
it. Humorist Dave Barry notes this
attitude in his book, Dave Barry in Cyberspace,
while discussing "chatting" on the Internet.
"[One may claim that he can already chat - he
chats with his friends.]," Dave says, "But
on the Internet, which connects millions of people all
over the entire globe, you can chat with total strangers,
many of whom are boring and stupid!"
Even with a sales pitch like that, everything now
seems to focus on the electronic world. Perhaps the most
to-the-point example of
this that I’ve found was on the Sunday comics page.
Everyone who’s familiar with Johnny Hart’s
"B.C." knows the father and son ant characters.
In this strip, the son asks his father what love is. His
father replies that
love is an "emotion." The son ant walks away
with a confused look on his little ant face, saying to
himself, "Love is an electronic motion?"
Hey, it might as well be, because everything else already
is. For example, every major
newspaper and newsmagazine now has a section devoted
entirely to current events in the realm of the digital.
One needs only to look here
to find headlines not even imagined a decade ago. "13-year-old
Boy Has Popular Web
Site", "Mystery Hacker Breaks into
Military Computers", "13-year-old Boy to
Serve 25-year Sentence", and
so on. Also, wherever one used to see phone numbers - on
TV ads, magazine ads, posters, billboards, whatever -
you’re now almost as
likely to find web site and e-mail addresses. The movies
"Toy Story", "Independence Day", and
Juliet" all advertised their web sites at the end of
every preview. Even when I searched the net for the
word "Amish," I
came up with an impressive nine thousand matches.
So to be perfectly honest, electronics is a wonderful way
to get things done. It serves as a whole new media for
business and advertising,
where cost is virtually nil. This proves true for nearly
all walks of business, from the dull financial
services and airline reservations we’ve all heard about
to the rather spicy fare of online soap operas. You
heard me: Cybersoaps! As if
parents weren’t already complaining about inappropriate
content online! But they seem to
be doing well enough; after all, as a U.S. News and
World Report article of October 21, 1996 reports,
"A year’s worth of cybersoap episodes can be
produced for the cost of a single prime-time TV episode."
True, computers are a wonderful thing, but we can’t let
them consume us. We have to fight our desires to be able
to make decisions and
perform actions without consequence. For in the computer
world, every mistake can be corrected
with the "undo" option, every game restarted,
every wrong turn turned right. In fact, it’s not only
computers that try
to eliminate consequence in our modern world. What do you
think health foods are ? People want to enjoy food,
but they don’t want to pay the price in calories. So
they buy fat-free, salt-free, sugar-free,
low sodium, baked, not fried, diet snacks. What’s the
result ? Well, they’re still pretty healthy, but they
find themselves trying to
force something called "Air Crisps" down their
throats. I bet you can’t guess what the main ingredient
is. Well I saw something once that put this all into
perspective. It said that first there were video games -
but they were unconvincing
and superficial. Then there was virtual reality - but you
only feel like you’re there. So now,
the newest breakthrough in gaming technology - actual
reality. For those of you who may have seen it as
well, yes, it was a shoe
commercial. And maybe I’m just a tool of the
advertisers, but I think we should all give it a shot.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the letters of
"Information Superhighway" can be rearranged to
spell the phrase, "New
Utopia ? Horrifying Sham."
You lift your head from the keyboard of your now-deceased
best friend, and stare at its black monitor face, wondering
what to do now? As you contemplate the feasibility of life
after hard-drive-crash, a ray of light hits you in
the face. You look up - the sun is shining through your
basement window! You pull open the shades and see a
beautiful day waiting for
you outside. You smile to yourself as you put on your
shoes, pick up your basketball and head
out the door, and think that maybe, just maybe, by
the time you get around to trying to fix that computer, it
will have collected a nice,
thick layer of dust.
1.)Barry, Dave: Dave
Barry in Cyberspace, New York: Crown Publishing, 1996
"Tina’s Humor Archives - Computers"
3.)Sanders, Drew W.:
"The Spam Sonnet Page", http://www.naic.edu/~jcho/spam/sonnets.html
4.)Laude, Olivier: U.S.
News and World Report, October 21 1996:"The
Cybersoap World," pp.75
For those interested in performing this speech in
competition, go ahead! Info that may be required:
this speech was written and first performed in 1996, and
is published in the Ohio High School Speech League's
Winning Orations 1997.