I’m back in New York City and back online after spending a week in the Bay Area with no readily accessible internet connections. (In July, my nine-year-old laptop finally died. But before you start ranting about how no one should have a laptop for such a long time, carefully consider how successful computer manufacturers have been in convincing us that state-of-the-art products should have such limited shelf lives.) While admittedly Northern California is one of the most wired places on Earth, and internet cafes were undoubtedly only a stone’s throw away from where I was 99.9% of the time, I didn’t notice any because I really wasn’t looking for them. It was a rare opportunity to log off for an extended period of time and to pay closer attention to the world beyond the computer screen, something I—and I’ll venture to say many other folks—do all too rarely these days.
Obviously, you’re in front of a screen reading this right now, and if you weren’t I would not be able to communicate my thoughts to most of you. Having a mechanism to interact in this way is a great thing, and, as we all know, it has been a major asset for music that falls outside the commercial mainstream. Despite Elton John’s rant last week (yes, I’ve caught up with all this stuff), computers and the internet are better than no computers and no internet, and they aren’t going to go away. But, at the same time, they are not the be-all end-all.
We need to figure out better ways to integrate wired life with unwired life. Despite my reluctance to re-enter the iPod debates that have been raging on these pages recently, there was something so pleasing to me about hearing a disc on the PA system at the Berkeley Amoeba—which I doubt I would have found through the you-like-this-you’ll-like-that web mechanisms of surfing—and buying it right there on the spot. The pleasure of my new discovery (Thai pop music from the late 1970s) was further increased by getting into a pleasant conversation about the music with Amoeba’s equally record-crazed staff.
Although Google is getting closer every day, traveling to another town will never be the same as virtually being there. That said, as much as I loved my week navigating hills and valleys instead of pixels, it’s great to be back home, in front of a computer terminal.