Today (Saturday, January 21st) is the day the solar storm—or flares or whatever they are—is supposed to disrupt all the electronic infrastructure that keeps the world tottering around, cell phones and iPads and computers and satellites and such. It seems to be partially true. Many of the sites I was attempting to connect to for research are not available. On the other hand Google, good old Google, is available. And, when I googled (good old Google) “iPad” to make sure I capitalized the right letter, that site came up just fine.
Of course, it may not be solar storms. I live in a very rural area where the primary relay station for our telephone/computer line is down at the low end of the valley, and every time it rains, or every time there are very high winds, or every time some hired hand for the local agribusiness sets the rippers too deep on his tractor (I’m talking about tractors the size of the average three bedroom house) we lose our telephone and computer service. Today it is raining, we have fifty-mph-plus wind gusts, and the fields at the end of the valley are being prepped for early planting, so it may be solar flares, or it may not.
But it provides an interesting and illuminating lesson for this curmudgeonly old Luddite. I arrogantly consider myself aloof from and immune to the fads and fashions of our frantic modern world. I proudly write “NA” in bold letters on forms that ask for my cell phone number. I not only do not have a cell phone, I don’t have an iPad, I don’t have a laptop to lug around, I’m not entirely clear as to what an X-box is (but it sounds like something shameful that should be kept in a brown paper wrapper on a high shelf), I scream for my wife if something goes wrong with the television when I’m watching Friday Night Fights, I don’t twiddle or twitter or whatever it is, and I still do my math longhand and as accurately as my wife does with a calculator. In my library I have the twenty volume Oxford English Dictionary, two complete encyclopedias (one of which is the Britannica), and probably around a thousand research books on all the subjects that interest me, as well as God only knows how many novels. I am an island, fiercely independent, complete, and self-sufficient unto myself. Internet? Pah! We don’t need no stinking internet.
And yet…. And yet. I’ve grown accustomed to spinning through some of the stories on different news services before I start my day’s work, a routine that both settles me and provides me with alternate points of view. I derive a certain comfort and encouragement from various blogs on writing by people whose work I admire. Good old Google is my homepage. None of my encyclopedias or dictionaries (all published back in the eighties) could tell me how to spell iPad.
All of this got me thinking about SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (the Protect [intellectual property] Act). Both of these proposed pieces of legislation fit the bill (you should pardon the expression) as examples of why government—my government, your government, their government, anyone’s government, everyone’s government—is a dangerously powerful organism that needs constant monitoring and frequent overhauling. These bills may have been proposed with legitimate good will (though there are some who suggest this is merely pandering to powerful influences in the entertainment industry) but they typify the kind of simplistic thinking that passing a law will solve a problem. More to the point, they have the potential to interfere with the free flow of ideas and knowledge on the internet. I don’t particularly wish to see this blog reproduced on your site, with advertisers begging you to accept bags of gold that should be sent to me, but there are already laws in place to protect my intellectual property (my wife just suggested that a chicken wire fence should do the trick) and I really don’t want you to be able to close me down just because I stole the title for this blog from “My Fair Lady.”
What would we do without good old Goggle? I don’t know how to spell iPad.
If I have any trouble posting this, I’ll propose a law banning solar flares.