One and Zero


I live in one of the three million homes in the United States that was not prepared for the digital television revolution on June 12.  While our television mostly sits in the closet, I do wonder how it is that we let the first deadline pass, then ordered coupons for the converter, and still were not ready for the big switch. It may be a simple case of procrastination or perhaps we are finding  it difficult to say good bye to the analog world.

Here in the United States, we either remember life before digital or we do not. I like to think I strattle the two generations. But when my seven-year-old son told me a couple of days ago that his favorite numbers were one and zero, I realized I am an urchin of the analog waves.

Two pre-digital inventions shaped my world view.  I had a deep relationship with the typewriter.  Like an analog wave, the typewriter offered no option to cut, paste, sift or sort text like you can in a digital environment.  Editorial changes were never taken lightly as they often included starting all over again.

Cassette tapes were once abundant in my life. The brown tape that captured the recordings could disembowel at any moment. If I wanted to hear a song again, I had to push rewind and try to guesstimate where to stop. Like the typewriter, the cassette tape was often a frustrating proposition.  I could not click from one song to the next.  Each time I played a tape, I made a commitment to take a musical  journey in the same order the songs appeared. The cassette tape aerobicized my attention span. 

I am clear that the digital revolution is a good thing.  I do not want to return to the tap-tap-tap of the typewriter or the fixed nature of the cassette tape. I do wonder, however, what it means to lose the waves in our everyday lives.  Just like the ocean, waves can calm us. Committing to a certain order, as one must in an analog environment, can be a useful discipline.

I said goodbye to the typewriter. I don’t play cassette tapes anymore.  I said goodbye to them slowly like a wave that retreats from the shore.  I will say hello to digital television but not immediately. I will take a little time before I welcome more ones and zeros into my being to romanticize my analog past.


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2 responses to “One and Zero

  1. peter lynch

    i know that one usually associates this expression with new orleans, but i have appropriated it to describe the digital revolution: the big easy. i don’t gainsay the complexities of digital equipment, but they all work to make life easy.

    trying–and at first literally failing in seventh-grade typing class–to master the typewriter, i expressed amazement more than once at my mother’s facility with it. i don’t know that she ever got entirely comfortable with the electric typewriter. the touch never felt right to her. she has steadfastly refused even to attempt to master computers. much as i wish we could communicate by email, i understand.

    in my mother’s day as an executive secretary, speed and accuracy on the manual typewriter (and the ability to take shorthand) counted as skills, as marketable (though not as profitable) as fluency in the arcana of credit default swaps in the last decade or so on wall street. my mother wound up in the suite of the chairman of the board, the president and the treasurer of the southern new england telephone company in the late 1930s and through the war years because of her skills as a typist/stenographer. (we won’t go at length into the treasurer’s highly annoying crush on her.)

    she typed fast and clean, and this in the days of stencil copying courtesy of sheets that transferred the characters imprinted on one page to a second via a carbon film on the back of the copying sheet. no white-out liquid could save you if you made a mistake, even (or as my mother would put it, especially) if you made the mistake at five minutes to five. forget about getting to whitney avenue in time for the mount carmel bus at 5:10. as a child i marveled at her speed on the typewriter, which to me looked about as ergonomic (a word i did not then know, if it even existed) as a medieval torture device.

    fast forward to my college years, and especially graduate school, during my years of taking courses, anyway. as an undergrad, i occasionally had the luxury of dictating either to my mother or, once, to my landlady in charlottesville. i read from my legal pad, full of scribbles i could ask nobody to decipher, and with sterling efficiency they transferred my text, with revisions made on the fly as i read. one of those papers turned my mother into a lifelong admirer of the german-american cartoonist and painter lionel feininger, one of the major teachers at the bauhaus.

    in grad school i had to do the draft and the typing, and did not have the assistance of a computer until i wrote my dissertation prospectus in the fall of 1986, when i used yale’s computer center. until then, i had to take advantage of the transition from the written draft to the typed draft, and sometimes the second typed draft (usually begun partway through a failure) to do something radical: actually produce a completely different text. some elements always remained, of course, but transformed utterly, as yeats once wrote.

    easy? sure, computers make certain aspects of writing and communicating easy, in ways your kids will probably never understand simply because they take them for granted. better? one would, of course, find it easy to say, i don’t know. in many ways i’d have to say, yes. take your posts and my comments; no computers, poof, no more blog correspondence. but the specter of a lot of second and third drafts that will never get written as discreet rather than merely edited texts–that has to give anyone pause who really loves the act and process of writing. how you explain that to a child who loves one and zero, i have no earthly idea. as a single non-parent, i try not to presume in such matters.

  2. Thank you

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