April 8, 2004 (STAR) DE RERUM NATURA By Maria Isabel Garcia  - Loving technology is like being married to a member of the mob. It is exciting and I benefit from it but at the same time, I also feel robbed of something quite essential. Gaby Wood, who wrote "Edison’s Eve," a book on the history of automation, used the French word "escamoteur" to describe this sinister side of automation as it affects time that we, in our humanity, come to value. "Escamoteurs" means "thieves of time." I will extend this meaning to some common technologies we have now.

I carry a small notebook around all the time. I mean an actual refillable notebook. I used to have one of those electronic handhelds that a techie gave me when the first models were just coming out but I had trouble with it although not because I could not operate it. I could not grasp the conceptual hurdle that I had to be the one to learn the way the handheld computer recognized letters rather than the other way around. So, I dropped the whole idea and the thing. I could not give up the way I wrote stuff by hand even if I wanted to because it somehow confused my brain to have more than two modes in the way I wrote – by hand and by keyboard. Even with those two modes, I still get confused. For example, while writing long essays to pass a comprehensive exam many years ago, I started to realize by the time I was at the end of the first page, that the reasoning I used to support my answer had all been flawed. I then went to the top of the paper, scanned it until the end ("Select All") and then tapped a spot on my right ("Delete"). That would have been all dandy and reasonable had I been working on a computer and NOT writing manually on yellow paper! I took it for granted that I could delete bad ideas as I had written them if I were writing on my computer. I could have taken my time and be more careful in my thinking, pacing my thoughts with the push of my pen as it grazed my yellow paper. But no, my constant, prolonged engagement with my keyboard for years, has stolen that time from me. Now my mind has automatically assumed a pace that my body obeys, where it cannot muse and take all the possible turns, including wrong ones, while writing, and expect to finish on time if doing it manually. My laptop has, in some way, become a thief of my own Muses in writing.

I think the same goes with cellphones now. It still startles me when I pass someone on the street or in any public place and she or he starts talking engagingly to herself or himself. They are completely oblivious to the setting or the other people present who are also talking to their own cellphones. I hardly talk on my mobile in front of someone else as much as I send text messages. Though I think that has to do with my love for the written word more than the act of texting. I do send text messages unabbreviated, complete with the proper punctuations and spaces as most of my friends and family members do (or they just do when they text me because I really cannot understand abbreviated text, not to mention the icons!). We are not holding up our noses on this. We just simply cannot and do not want to study another form of writing. But being able to call or text someone instantly also robs me of those moments when I could have let my response settle a bit more before I expressed it, saw how else it could have connected to something else later before I revealed the whole picture with a call. My mobile has somehow become a thief of patience, of the right time for things, and of the mystery of the unexpressed.

E-mail is another thief with which I am in love. We all can write letters, and send pictures at the speed of thought. We can even send the ones we did not write or take ourselves and spread them to people we do not even know or will never know. I once sent a note to all my close friends that I really would appreciate it if they would attach their own words, even very briefly, as to why they were forwarding certain stuff to me unless it was truly obvious why. Some were quite put off by my note but I really did not mean to offend or cast doubt on the sincerity of the senders. It was only because I still treated e-mail as an expression of thought, in all its hues and intensity, and to me, it being electronic did not change the fact that it was still a letter, a means to connect with someone. So call me "anal" but I always want to understand why a letter lands in my "inbox," especially if it is not flagrantly obvious why. E-mail has stolen this from me, this time I had spent trusting and delighting then that each mail I got was deliberate and was released from its sender, after careful thought (from jokes to theories on the meaning of it all), ripe of age. Now I have to wade through a series of forwarded notes before I sometimes could figure out why I was included among the recipients. To all the strangers who forward me stuff without explaining why, I do ask why they send them to me and they never answer back. Am I the one way off-base in asking this?

But real cards and letters on actual paper are so delicious to receive. I feel like by reserving and committing some thoughts to actual paper, postcard or stationery, I get to steal time back from these thieves of time. I have never really totally abandoned writing on actual paper but I figured that now, I would do it in style. So, I grabbed some colored stationeries and even sealing wax sticks. I wrote letters to my two little nephews and my five-year-old niece. I sprayed some floral oils in them – something that would look odd if you did it to your monitor – knowing that smell is scientifically the best bookmark of memories. Now, if only their parents can peel their children off from the computer screens to read my letters when my perfumed letters get there.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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