Cold and Bold
"I have to live to work."
That's what Hemingway used to say. His work was to write boldly, so he had to live boldly first, to get good material.
These days my work is also to write, but to write code, not words. To write good code, it is often best not to live life, and certainly not to live life boldly, because living life boldly requires energy and empathy, and to write good code, you need to save those things for your program and not waste them on people.
This kind of strategy makes your code bold, but your life cold.
It is weird. The more time I spend with computers, the more I feel they are exerting some kind of hold over me, like it is me serving them, and not the other way around.
When I am deep into my program, like I am now, I feel like an entirely different person than I am on the road. In fact, I frequently don't feel like a person at all, but like some kind of organic operating proxy to type the necessary instructions. I lie on my bed in the afternoon and look at the wall, and it's hard to know exactly what I am feeling, because my mind is entirely inside the machine, and my body simply feels like an interface.
A few nights ago Kyla called, and she was at SXSW, in Austin, Texas, where the digital aristocracy is gathered to learn about the latest developments in the digital world. She was saying how everyone in the Interactive session sat around in corridors staring into their iPhones or laptops, and how nobody was actually interacting in person, because they had digital tools that could do it more efficiently. These people were not nerds — they were fashionable, educated, urban, tech-savvy hipsters, and many of them were very attractive. They just had all the right devices, and these days it's cooler to use them than to talk or to touch, unless what you're touching is a multitouch screen.
She described a sense of euphoria there among them — an excited optimism for what they were building, and for what the online world can become. But there was something that bugged her, too, and she was trying to tell me what she thought it was.
"Everyone's really smart and friendly and nice," she said, "so it's not that. And everyone seems to be having a really good time, but it's like everyone is so smart and logical and ambitious, but no one is wise. I think that's it. In all this stuff they're building, there doesn't seem to be any wisdom. It's like everyone is just leaping ahead trying to build the next best gadget to get a lot of users and make a lot of money, but no one's really asking why, or what it's all really doing to us as humans."
She was saying how the Internet today feels like the fast food revolution in the 50's, when everyone was suddenly so amazed they could get food so fast and so cheap that they gorged themselves on it, like we gorge ourselves today on technology. Both habits lack consciousness, and are run by frantic compulsion, even addiction.
Kyla was talking to a female psychiatrist who's recently had a lot of young female patients come in complaining about a lack of sexual intimacy from their boyfriends, and how many of these boyfriends work in technology. Apparently in the last few years this has become a common complaint. The guys come home after working all day with the Web, thinking in code and designing instructions, and it's really hard for them suddenly to become human again, and to sit down for dinner with the person they love. It's like coming home from study abroad every single night, and having to manage the culture shock while your girlfriend is passing the potatoes and holding your hand.
For all of the porn and the sex that exists on the Web, the Web is a remarkably asexual place. Very little is either masculine or feminine, and as we live our lives increasingly online, you can almost feel our hormones dissolving — dismissed as misogynistic and old-fashioned and gleefully replaced by information and knowledge. But what kind of knowledge?
My friend Annie lived in Greece for a while, and she told me the Greeks say that women make men and men make women, like everyone is lazily flopping around until they are suddenly jolted into place by the opposite sex, who demand they become who they are.
Technology tries to undo this, merging men and women into the same androgynous "users".
For the first time in a while today, I went back out into life. I couldn't code anymore, and plus it was Friday, so I drove into town and got out of the car. I walked for a long time, all over town. The weather was crazy, and I passed Our Lady of Apocalyptic Skies, next to her church. I saw two red traffic lights across a field and said out loud, "Red eye." I saw a group of Mexican girls playing volleyball in a gym, where they'd left the door open a crack, and there was a kid chasing a ball. I saw a mural lit by a light that suddenly went out. I saw a bridge with footprints. I saw a man walking up on the hill. I saw a baseball scoreboard in a white field. I saw an old couple come out of a restaurant, she snuggling up into him, probably saying thank you for another wonderful dinner after all these years and wasn't it lovely and maybe we can go home now for some you know... I saw three men in cowboy hats standing under an awning, staring into a phone. I saw a girl grab the collar of a guy in a bar and pull him close and kiss him hard on the mouth. Then they saw me see them through the window and they giggled tee hee hee and turned away. I saw an old man with long gray hair eating alone at the counter. He was having fish and chips, and he didn't smile or say anything when he handed his credit card to the waiter and paid. Then he walked out into the snow, and then I walked out into the snow. Then I saw snow, and then I couldn't see anything because of it.