Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Two Deadly Sins of Tech

I'm writing this post on a Mac. I have no idea what kind of Mac. It's got a picture of an apple on the front. I think they all do. The reason I'm writing it on a Mac is because my son takes a Saturday art class at CCAD, where I also teach a History of Advertising course one night a week. Since I'm on faculty, I figured out that I can log in on the Macs that the students use in the computer lab right next to where Dan's class is. It's a 2.5 hour class. So rather than drive the half-hour downtown, find something useless to do for 1.5 hours, and then turn around and come back... I can log onto a Mac and find something useless to do online. Like this.

Or... last Saturday I actually did work. I haven't used a Mac for much real work since about 1988. It just worked out that way. Even though I'm in marketing and advertising, my jobs have been predominantly on the client side, where PCs rule the roost. In the early 90's... that was a pain. The Mac kicked serious bahookey over PCs in the realm of creative tools. But over the last 15 years, things have become pretty equal. The main programs my crew of designers at work uses -- Photoshop, Quark, InDesign, Illustrator, Flash, etc. -- are just about identical on both platforms. And if you know your way around Firefox, most good Web sites are pretty much agnostic, too. So last week, without having had any training or practice, I sat down at the Mac here in the lab and started up Photoshop CS2 and got about 1.5 hours of serious work-work done. I had to get used to one thing; hitting the Apple key instead of the CTRL key. Whoop dee dooh. Other than that, the experience of Photoshop on the Mac was identical to what I do at work every day on my pretty-much-maxed-out Dell.

I bring all this up because a good friend of mine recently posted and article in an online tech rag about a bad experience he had with a Mac... and guess what? He got horribly, fantastically flamed. Threatening voice-mails, hate email, hundreds of foul, profane comments, dozens of flaming blog responses. All because he basically said, "I really don't like Macs. I had a bad experience with them."

He's got a pretty decent "advanced layman's grasp" of computer gizmos. But they are NOT what he does for a living. He's a marketing dude. He works with computers and software, not on them. Subtle difference. It's the difference between a carpenter (me) and a handyman (my friend). Between a plumber (me) and a guy who has a wrench at home and can fix a leaky pipe (my friend). Between a doctor (me) and somebody who knows CPR (you get the freakin' picture). His description of his experience was a layman's description. It was what you'd tell a doctor if you went to see one with a pain in your chest; "I have a pain right here; above my belly-button. It kind of hurts when I laugh or cough." The MacAttack gang when bananas on him and basically carved him a new one for not being able to adequately identify that he had a ruptured spleen.

I'm not saying I'm a programmer. I ain't. And I'm not saying my buddy is an idiot. He ain't. He's a very "high end regular user." A very, very smart dude. But he is not somebody for whom the operation of the computer and software is integral to the operation of his business. If you said, "We're taking away the computers," or "You don't get to use Photoshop anymore," he could still do his job.

I couldn't. Photoshop is God. Quark and/or (preferrably "and") is required on any resume I look at for an Art Director position. When the computers go down at the office, folks go home and work on their personal boxes (some of which are Macs) and log in remotely.

My Mom uses Word. Everybody uses Word. That's fine. Cool. But for many people, if you said, "You can't have a computer for a few days," they'd probably shrug and go back to work. And to play. And to life. We who live on the damned things and the Web and the blogs and the pods forget that you really don't need this crap for about 90% of the actual "stuff." It's very, very helpful. Don't get me wrong. And my job abso-freakin-lutely depends on it. And 65% of all my hobbies and fun depends on it, too. I'm deep deep deep down this bunny hole.

But... the first and most deadly sin of tech is Pride.


Life came before tech and computers and the Web. Books and plays and music and dance and paintings and games have been around for a very, very long time. The tech serves the content. I mean that in both ways. Yes, I know that computers run the airplanes and the trucking schedules and UPS and help the drug companies design the anti-acid that I take, etc. etc. They are inextricably tied into our society and commerce and social fabric. I ain't sayin' they ain't. But what I am saying is that you need to remember that they are tools. Not archetypal marks of some kind. Not gods. Not people. Not signs pointing to other things. It's a box full of wires that helps you push ones and zeroes around very efficiently. It's pretty lights. It's noise and data in some combination. I love them, yes. A lot. Pretty, pretty, shiny box. But if you fetishize any object -- car, beer, perfume, gun, sneaker, shampoo, sports team -- to the point where you evaluate its importance more highly than that of a person... bingo! Pride. Because you have just set your value judgement of that technology above the value of another person. It's a complicated hammer, people. And when you put the value of any tool above that of a person, you will begin to...


...after it. Oh, lust. To have, as the dictionary says, "A strong or excessive yearning." Whether it be Mac or PC, iPods or new cell phones, digital cameras or HDTV... technolust is clearly here to stay. It's a relatively new variation on planned obsolescence. We want the latest, greatest techno bauble. Why? Because it does... er... new... things. Better. Faster. Bigger. Harder. Plumper. Juicier. Ooh, baby. The problem with lust in the classic, personal (human), sexual sense, is that it a warping of that greatest of God's gifts, love, and actually forbids love. Why? Because Lust stems -- as do all the Seven Deadly Sinse, in classic literature -- from Pride. Lust places the desire of the subject (the luster-er) well above the wishes of the object (the hot potato in the cut off jeans, belly shirt, dangly earrings and little tattoo of a butterfly right above her...). And placing any of our own desires or intentions above those of others is a variety of Pride. With humility and maturity, Lust can become love. In the case of technolust, it is, of course, impossible for Lust to become love, because love requires two. And no matter how hard your try, your iPod will never love you back.

Wrapping it Up

I'm pretty sure I could drag this metaphor out for the other five sins; envy, wrath, glutony, greed and sloth. But the two bigs that came to mind relative to the MacBeating that my buddy took were Pride and Lust. When something is (or seems to be) the most important thing in your life, for both play and work, it becomes a source of unhealthy Pride. "Bad Pride." Not the "I did a good job and should be proud." That's OK. But the kind where your shite gets all out of proportion. Where you make threatening phone calls to someone who never did you any personal harm and whom you've never met and who was only stating an opinion. Even if somebody is a total dip... come on. That's seriously putting your own agend way, way out in front.

And when Pride leads to Lust, we have unrequited Love. Read my lips, people ---

Mac/PC/MP3 Player/Cell Phone/Blackberry

No matter how much your job depends on your knowledge of Ajax, and how many MP3s you have on your hip, and how many "friends" are on your MySpace page, and how fast you text... I understand that it hurts when someone disrespects your chosen tech. It hurts because she/he cannot defend him/herself. Your Lust and Pride has projected part of your own self-image onto the product. That is a direct result of really, really good marketing and, in some cases, good products and services. And because that Lust can never be turned into healthy love, the reaction will often be that of an unrequited lover; anger, resentment, violence. Because Lust is not healthy, and Pride is all about you.

Technology is things. And things are not deserving of our love. Only people and God deserve to be loved. So before you engage in the other Deadlies, and do harm to a person on behalf of an un-loveable, fetishized artifact... question your motives carefully. Tech is imporant. The Web is way cool. But like the man said, "If I had a hammer... I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters." Not, "I'd hammer out a 2,000 word, massively profane, hateful, flaming rant."

We're all on the same side, my friends. We're all monkeys. Stop throwing poo.

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