Unfortunately, today’s Yarn Along post does not include a photo. This is ironic and funny given some of the things I wrote below about technology – but the bottom line is that I can’t get my phone to send the photo to my Yahoo account. This has happened before, but the photos have always eventually made their way through the ether – but not this time, and I am tired of trying.
The picture I tried to share with you is of Barry Unsworth’s novel Morality Play and the first six rows of the neckband of another tank sweater. It was one of those photos that people take on the beach – essentially a picture of my own lap (containing knitting and book) with my feet in the distance.
Fortunately, I have lots to say. Here are some thoughts on knitting, reading, the fourteenth century, technology, aging, the orbit of Mercury, and the story of how I was introduced to the internet for the first time but wasn’t paying very much attention.
I’m still reading Anna Karenina, I promise. But this weekend I felt the itch to take a break and read something else, so I chose Barry Unsworth’s Morality Play. I’m not sure if I like it or not. It’s told in first person by a fourteenth-century priest who was being chased out of his lover’s house by his lover’s cuckolded husband (you know, like priests did in the fourteenth century) when he comes upon a bunch of traveling actors who are trying to figure out what to do with a dead body. Long story short, they decide that the priest should come with them and take the place of the actor who has died. Everywhere they go, though, Death seems to follow them (you know, as Death did in the fourteenth century). And so far that’s all that happens in this book, which is showing signs of becoming sort of a detective story in which the priest/actor/narrator takes on the role of detective.
Oh, and so far they still haven’t gotten rid of the dead body. They just carry him around with them, and every so often a woman named Margaret changes his clothes.
The new project on these needles is Palm Desert Winter Sweater #3, which I’m making in a dark tan and beige – neutral colors for a change. No, I haven’t finished the green one yet, but I’m frustrated with it for a couple of reasons, so I’ve put it aside for a while.
In other news, today marks 20 years since Jill and I graduated from high school.
Let’s think about this for a moment. We’ve been out of high school for 67% of the average life expectancy of a paleolithic human. Mercury has orbited the sun 83 times since Jill and I filed into St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco to the profoundly intimidating notes of “Masterpiece Fanfare” played on the pipe organ. Twenty years is the shelf life of powdered milk as well as the maximum prison sentence allowed for someone who has used a computer in the furtherance of terrorism. In twenty years, the Texas black rat snake eats 859 rats, and a hummingbird flaps its wings 31,536,000,000 times.
Today a fifteen year-old of my acquaintance was studying for her SAT II math exam and ran out of index cards. Her father rummaged around in the garage and found a packet of dividers for index cards, which he said she was welcome to use. She held the packet and studied it like the tribesman in The Gods Must Be Crazy examined the Coke bottle. “Why would anyone need dividers for index cards?” she asked as she cut the lettered tabs off over the trash can. “What could you possibly do with these do with these?”
So I started in on recipe boxes – and her astonishment continued. “That was how you got recipes,” I explained. “Sure, there were cookbooks, but when you asked for a recipe from a friend or when you read one in a magazine, you copied it on an index card and kept in alphabetized in a box.”
Next I revealed the fact that my family still uses a box of alphabetized index cards for addresses and phone numbers. There are names and addresses of dead people in that box, mind you – but still we use them.
And then we talked about card catalogs. You can predict how things went from there.
About a week or two before our classes ended back in 1994, our school library reopened after being renovated, and our psychology teacher took the class to the library for a tour of the new equipment and resources. The librarian apologized a little sheepishly for the fact that we were graduating soon and would never get to use the new resources. We didn’t care. We didn’t especially pay attention, though I do remember that when we were instructed to type in some words or phrases that we might want to research, I typed in “rats AND sex.”
Because let’s be honest, people.
Long story short: what that soft-spoken librarian was showing us was the internet. The school had updated all of its computers and had installed some kind of proto-search engine, more advanced than Prodigy or Compuserve but not quite up to the standards of Google, which would appear in a few more years. Three months after this lesson – which seemed dopey and irrelevant – I matriculated at the college that was known at the time as the most wired campus in the country. I attended an orientation session, then stood in line behind a huge truck. A Mac Quadra was issued to me, and somehow I managed to carry it back to the dorm. I plugged it right into the wall – my college was already modem-free. A couple of months later, word spread through the dorm that an Australian kid who lived in the basement had a live hook-up to NASA and was watching the space shuttle launch from his dorm room. No one would bat an eye at such a thing today, but I was a little dazed and stunned. No one warned me, I remember thinking.
In the happy, deluded center of my brain, I consider myself almost a Luddite. I use a computer every day, but only for word processing, information searches, email, and Facebook. I refuse to use GPS – ever. I don’t have a data plan on my phone because I just plain don’t think it’s worth the money it costs. I still listen to CD’s and watch DVD’s and maintain a home phone line, and I make noise about the spike in Alzheimer’s diagnoses that I expect to take place when my generation hits 70, when our brains will have atrophied themselves out of existence after having had their decisions made for them by machines for most of their lives. I have always believed – and still do – that there is something spiritually important about doing things ourselves.
At the same time, I have to admit that many (or most?) of the meaningful parts of my life happen when I turn on this thin black box. My friendship with Jill – and with our many other wonderful friends from high school – doesn’t take place entirely on the computer, but I doubt if we would have reconnected to the extent we have if the internet – Facebook first, and later this blog – hadn’t made it so fantastically easy to stay in touch. Since I’ve relocated to San Francisco, all of my jobs and tutoring clients have come to me from Craigslist. When I had to take a medical leave – and later quit my job – it was the daily writing I did on my first blog – and the daily support and feedback I received, from Jill and from others – Mary, Tara, Megan, Maria, Brenda – that allowed me to process the experience and shape it into something meaningful.
Twenty years isn’t always a long time. But these twenty years, 1994-2004 – these twenty years were a century long, at least.
Yarn Along is a longstanding Wednesday tradition hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.