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Stolen moments (05/22/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

I am a strong believer and imbiber of quality time to myself, to step outside of my own shadow, to breathe personal air.

Stolen moments can flow like an artist's sweeping color strokes, but sometimes the artwork is fragmented, leaving one with the frustration of feeling less than fulfilled. In life's whirlwind there seems to be less serene places, and shorter intervals, in which to escape.

There's more than one way to kill time. More and more, people are allotting and spending precious hours canvassing the Internet and beaming up chat rooms for gratification and renewal.

From what I've been reading, computers could desensitize our cultures to the subjective quality of life, to the point that people won't believe in experience anymore. In an interview by Arnie Cooper, in the May Sun, 44-year-old virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier takes a byte out of the software hype.

"I'm worried that the technologies of the future will be created by people I call cybernetic totalists. They believe there isn't any real difference between people and computers, that the human brain is just a better computer than the ones you can currently buy from Apple or Dell," Lanier laments.

Everywhere and in all worldly things we living organisms are at the mercy of someone or something. Lanier worries, "Sometimes the people who design software are too optimistic about human nature. For example, e-mail was invented by people who didn't have sufficient paranoia about the dark side of human nature. Thus we have spam, fake addresses of origin, and so on."

Lanier states his point so convincingly that one tends to fear the superiority of a human-programmed anomaly. "I'm concerned that ideas about the nature of personhood and the meaning of life - the big ideas that are usually addressed by philosophy or religion or the arts - have already been answered in a computer-centric way by the preponderance of people in high-tech fields..."

"If the tool you use to express your ideas has certain ideas embedded in it, then it's very hard to escape those ideas..."

What about all the hoopla concerning the desire to look younger and to be fit as a fiddle, the pipe-dream of living forever? Researchers have invested precious knowledge and decades to engineer mice, extremely strong, who live as long as a human equivalent of at least 200 years. Give it up!

What was so bad about Popeye's take on life? "I yam what I yam!" The resources, desires, time, and efforts spent on personal enhancement and beauty treatments take a toll on the more productive, virtuous pursuits of life.

"Stolen moments" once brought to mind a lovers' tryst in a country grove, a reflective time set aside to write in a personal journal, a young mother's break during nap time to take a bubble bath, or a farm wife's stroll down a field path at twilight. Sounds like so much sappy romanticizing today.

That child prodigy software engineer and artist, Lanier surmises, "The computer scientists want to take us to an amoral, bland, nerdy, pointless future. In the blink of an eye, computers will become godlike and transcend human understanding. Artificial life will inherit the earth." How many of us are programmed to accept that dour prediction?

Remember when we were summoned to the blackboard during arithmetic, told to "look it up" by a busy mother, composed our English themes in longhand, and were expected to make proper change in the lunch line at school?

With all the whiz-bang conveniences and communication tools at our disposal, why do we seem to have less downtime and family togetherness than ever before?

Overload! Let's preserve the important things, and not sacrifice our unique identities for instantaneous discourse and incomprehensible blather. Who needs it?

Take the long way home. Carpe diem! 


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