Hanging out in Rockford: Not Mr. Computer

I am definitely not Mr. Computer. I am not Mr. Modern Era, either. I am struggling to learn Facebook because it is good for business, but I treat it more like a job. I have to do enough on the computer for my work that when I am done, the last thing I want to be doing is anything on the computer. So, when I sit down to Facebook, it is grudgingly.

I’m that way about my phone lately, too. I don’t answer it unless I know who is calling. I positively cringe when it rings. When the sound of a message being left occurs, I cringe again. I hate answering the phone, but I do. I try to hide out at Café Greco, but the damn phone finds me. I am definitely the guy in the commercial saying that I don’t want a new phone, but I mean it. I don’t even have text service on my phone.

Katy and I are buying a new computer for the business. Our old one is six years old, and while it isn’t having any problems yet, it is only a matter of time. It is a shame because it uses Windows 98, and no one attacks it. It doesn’t have to have 3 or 4 gigs of RAM, and it still opens up faster than any other computer we have. But we drive out to Office Depot and then on to Best Buy. At Office Depot, a nervous young man waits on us. When I tell him we are going to Best Buy before we make a decision, he abruptly turns and walks away.

The prices are actually cheaper at Office Depot than at Best Buy, so we return to buy the tower we have previously picked out. When we are driving back to the Rose, I say to her that I am not very computer literate. She says I am for my age. (I think that is what is called a back-handed compliment. But she is probably right; it may have something to do with my physics training in college. That is how I learned to do refrigeration, by understanding the principles and then thinking it through.)

But now, I am entering a new era (for me), the era of social networking. Learning how to use Facebook has resulted in an epiphany of sorts. I think I now have a better understanding of Twitter. It is Facebook for the iPhone. All those young people sending short messages. Now, they can network socially right from their phone, and they don’t have to sit at their computer. They don’t have to write anything long, either; they are limited to 140 characters. As if they would write anything longer even if they could.

I’ve heard stories about two children sitting next to one another in the back seat of the car texting one another instead of talking. Something is wrong with that. If they were my kids, I would take their phones away. The danger of all of this is that we are losing the ability to talk to each other. We are losing the ability to read anything longer than a few words. It is the written equivalent of a sound bite. We are training our whole future population to be glib. Somehow, this all relates back to Marshall McLuhan’s message about the medium (television) being the message.

We have lost our ability to think long. We want our profits instantaneously (i.e., the banks and AIG). We want our gratification (of all sorts) the same way. Or have we? Or have the newspapers just interpreted that we all are morons and catered to their vision of us? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Can’t get the long version, so we settle for the abbreviated, slimmed-down, televised version that the mass media now dictate is our choice. Doesn’t seem like anyone is testing the hypothesis.

Lots of good things a week from Saturday down here in the “Block of Blocks,” Block 5. Saturday, Aug. 15. Put it on your calendar, and if you’re interested about learning more, you can go to my Facebook page for me, Michael Leifheit, or to the page my son set up for me on Facebook at Rockford’s Irish Rose. There, I did it. But it took more than 140 characters.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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