Edwards, Owen. “Remembrance of Things Fast.”
Forbes ASAP December 2, 1996
Some years ago, I managed to spend a few hours a week rowing a single shell. Then, enabled by the tools of the information age to cram more productivity into fewer hours, I increased my working hours (to make more money) and decided that a rowing machine would let me burn calories without the inconvenience of straying too far from my computer.
The result was efficient but, in the end, a bland simulation. Then, responding to a sense that all was not entirely well, I joined a rowing club with a boat house on a lake not far from my house. Now I am on the water most mornings around seven, using a technology that has changed little since Thomas Eakins was painting scullers on the Schuylkill River a century ago.
I don’t burn any more calories than I do on my home machine, but I watch the gulls and pelicans land and take off, I deal with the wind and the mist, I feel how the long, narrow shell glides over the water when my strokes are good, and, if I make a clumsy mistake, there’s always the chance I’ll encounter the shocking reality of cold water.
Today, we hear politicians and sociologists warn of the coming division between digital haves and have-nots. I suspect this is simply another of the historic separations that inevitably follow close behind technological change—after all, half the world’s population still doesn’t have toilets, yet life goes on. The coming division that will really matter to many of us will be between those who have found a way to balance the yin of digital Zen and the yang of substantial reality, and those who haven’t.
The former will understand the power of the digital advantage, and also the consequences of forgetfulness and disassociation that wait in ambush for those possessed by speed. The latter will grow ever more enamored of disengagement—or resistant to reality with all its messiness and unpredictability—and will become a new kind of cloistered, misanthropic monk, socially maladroit, politically unconcerned. Digital adepts increasingly devoid of analog wisdom. People without memories.