By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK
We had friends we envied when I was young. They always bought the latest things. A visit to their house was a real treat. You name it: air hockey, Pac-Man, they had it all. We thought we were deprived until we returned home and to playing with just our siblings again. And the lure dissipated until we got a fresh dose on the next visit.
Then along came computers. I always wondered why you couldn’t just turn your computer on and get a blank screen and just start typing. That seemed to match the prominent keyboard that came with it. That’s just me, I guess. My needs are simple. It takes an inordinate amount of time for me to find the word-processing function on a given computer. Too many buttons.
“Word processing did not develop out of computer technology. It evolved from the needs of writers rather than those of mathemeticians [sic], only later merging with the computer field,” writes Brian Kunde in A Brief History of Word Processing (Through 1986). You can find it on the Internet.
No, word processing is now only just one part of the wonderful world of computers, we were told. It’s always more than a glorified typewriter and more useful than the old Texas instruments calculator we all used to like to bring to math class in high school. And when you buy a computer for typing documents, you always have to buy a whole lot of other stuff you don’t need. I tried finding a calculator recently, then remembered I have one on my phone anyway. When I bought my first desktop computer back in the mid-90s, I also learned that a calculator usually comes with the software under “accessories.” It usually doesn’t take me too long to remember that now when I need to add numbers.
I bought the computer because, well, everyone else was buying one too it seemed, and I didn’t want to be left out. One of the lessons I learned early and have truly struggled to overcome through life is the need to not be left out. That is, conversely, the need to sense the reassurance that one is part of the “in” crowd.
A realization of the somewhat fluid nature of this concept of being “in” started to set in after college. The herd mentality evaporates easily once a person is no longer spending the greater part of each day in a classroom setting with a large group of people the same age. Home-schooling seems to be an effective inoculation against this learned predisposition to be manipulated by fads, the media, and merchants of every sort who use it to advertise.
Of course another reason that I was interested in purchasing a computer was in order to get in on the fabulous new thing called the Internet. For those of a superficial spirituality and who inordinately crave human company, there can be a constant struggle against feeling isolated or remote. When you’re stationed by the military in the wilds of America, far from cities and their constant hum of activity, you must fill the void.
The Internet promised a connection with other people, people who could read what you write as they sit in front of their home computers also linked to the Internet. Of course it’s true that one can potentially reach others through this means. But short of actual conversation, how do you know they receive what you offer beyond a momentary glimpse at an image such as a photograph, which requires very little investment of time, or the title of an article that they immediately judge too long to read?
In the initial excitement surrounding general access to the Internet, the promise of reaching anyone at all seemed worth the effort. Besides, you could install a gizmo on your web page that counts the number of visitors to your site. Then other visitors could come and see it was important because other people visited it and they would want to visit it also — because it was important.
But, at any rate, the instinct to accomplish something, to use technology for the good and even for the highest Good, for God and the spreading of the doctrine of the faith, is always laudable. Even sacrificing a little privacy in order to share firsthand stories from life that build up, convince, and compel can be accomplished — as always, with discretion.
All humor aside, the latest WikiLeaks dump of documents detailing CIA spying means and methods is a sobering splash of cold water in the face. The promise of the Internet as with any other worldly reality can be turned against good and used for harm. The instinct to publish Scripture and catechism lessons on my Meeting Christ in the Liturgy site from the early days around 1995 turned out to be a good one. All of us are finding out, conversely, that the popular photos and personal details on places like Facebook may not be so much fun after all. It’s not fun to see your personal information in the hands of someone who can use it to harm you. And the Internet specializes in sifting information bits and putting them together to make the big picture about any person, place, or thing.
Samsung warned people some time ago that voice-activated smart TVs can pick up voices. No kidding. If you want to keep family matters private, move the conversation out of earshot of the family entertainment system. Or use sign language! Don’t forget that the latest smart phones are also voice activated. Remember Siri? Better not bring it into the confessional anymore even though you may find it convenient for praying the breviary online! There’s no seal of the confessional on Siri because she’s not real.
We all know, I hope, that one of the guys who invented computers keeps the camera on his computer screen covered up at all times. Don’t wonder why anymore.
My frustration with those Luddite types who cannot receive any documents except those composed with the most antique-word processing programs is now transformed into admiration. With WikiLeaks, Chelsea, and Snowden hard at work, along with viruses galore, the only means of hack-proofing your secrets committed to a computer may be DOS. That’s because “everybody” stopped using it.
For those of us who never learned to type but who still want to write, there is voice-activated typing. As long as you are in the business of writing things you don’t mind ending up in the public domain, as with newspaper columns. Maybe we can get WikiLeaks to improve our readership. Everybody’s reading WikiLeaks this week. It’s the most honest thing The New York Times has published all year.
It’s better to put God on the Internet than to let the Internet become the latest false god that turns on and destroys its adherents. Now, it’s the “in crowd” people who always buy the latest gizmos who are left out: out in the cold with their private information potentially published for God and all to see. On the Internet.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. @MCITLFrAphorism
(Join me on pilgrimage to Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions. Call 24/7: 1-855-842-8001 or 508-340-9370 or visit proximotravel.com. You can find our group by entering the state of “Maryland” in the search box at the website.)