Technology is an enigma to me. Or, as Winston Churchill once said: “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” Of course, he was talking about Russia, not tiny particles of an element found in sand (among other things). I’m talking about silicon, of course…the stuff that makes our computers and gadgets do that voodoo that they do. Who knew? The dirt from which we were formed would be the same material from which our most irritating and yet, beneficial tools would be developed. I know, I’m stretching a bit to make that connection, but “dust to dust”, you know…
Walking into the business this morning, my sister showed me the “black screen of death” on our shipping room computer. Thinking like an IT tech, my first words were, “Did you reboot?” And, speaking like a user who’s been around this particular block before, she answered, “First thing I did.” So, that popular IT ploy didn’t help any. As it turns out, the monitor was DOA and a simple substitution took care of the immediate problem. And if this were an isolated incident, I’d overlook it and you wouldn’t have a reason to be bored to death by my writing tonight.
But life is now an endless parade of these types of issues. A glitch in a program here, a restart there, and before you know it, we’re all amateur IT techs. I’m tired of “trying it again to see if that fixed it.” I’d like to just use it and have it work. And this is not just computers I’m talking about.
Two days ago, after a few hours of processing credit and debit cards for customers, our unit stopped communicating with the host. The result? Cash only please! Try that with a few university students and see where it gets you. No cards equals no sales. Again, frantic reboots, first the terminal, next the router, then the modem. No result? You call the service center to hear, “Sorry, the server is down all over the country.” What? No one can sell their products? No wonder we’re in a recession!
And don’t get me started on my new Swiss Army phone, so dubbed by my sweet wife. Like its analog namesake, it does everything, including letting you make the occasional phone call, so the title fits. Apple’s latest gift to its adoring masses, this particular jewel worked for two weeks, then told me that “SIM card failure” had occurred. By the way, a restart did fix this one, but my snobby Mac friends all tell me this is why I should want Apple’s products, since you “never have to reboot”. Ah, well, all technology is an enigma to me.
I did think it apropos to see, the other Sunday morning as I sat on the stage at church, that the unit into which all the microphones, instruments, and monitors are plugged is named “Mystery Electronics”. No kidding! That is the brand name of the product. How great is that? “We don’t understand it either, so you might as well get a good laugh out of it…” I am a bit curious as to who the marketing genius is that came up with the name, but it’s refreshing to see a little honesty in the field.
The flip side of the conundrum is that the physical talents necessary for music have also changed over time. I remember when the small-sized instrument tuners were introduced into the music business. My father-in-law, then my boss, thought it ludicrous. “Why would you trust your eyes to tune something you’re listening to?”, he asked prospective customers (great selling technique, eh?). Despite his best efforts, the digital tuner is standard equipment in any guitarist’s array of tools today. But, remembering the wide-eyed amazement with which the first tuners were greeted way back then, I still have to laugh as I constantly see that same look on the faces of young people while they watch me tune newly-strung guitars using only a tuning fork and my ears. Once the machine was the marvel. Now the human being who can work without it is.
I talked with a couple of old guitar players today (old, meaning they have played for a number of years) about different famous guitarists. I’ve run the gamut of likes and dislikes in my lifetime, but for now, my favorites are those who work “without a net”, so to speak. They are the acoustic guitarists who, for whatever reason, eschew gimmickry and machines. There they sit, just the guitar and the musician, working their magic with their raw talent, amazing the listener at the beautiful music that can be made by a human being who has perfected the craft.
I work with the technology I need to keep my business going. I even enjoy the challenge of new gadgets from time to time. But I will always love best the time spent with people, not through email or texting, but just by standing eye to eye and communicating, as well as the joy that comes through great music. More gadgets beget even more gadgets, and the list grows ever longer, but our emotional core demands communication and reflection. Deep speaks to deep, or if you will, “birds of a feather…” We really don’t fit well with machines over the long haul.
Take some time to communicate face to face with people today. If you can’t do that, at least pull up “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Tommy Emmanuel on YouTube and spend four and a half minutes enjoying one of the simple gifts of life.
“Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak…”
(William Congreve in 1697)