Thursday, June 28, 2007

Our House; Oh, and the iPhone...

Ellie hosted a meeting of professional women in the arts in our house last night, and it was a pleasure to see how well our new place worked to entertain a large-ish group of people. They arrived before sunset and enjoyed the daytime view of Hollywood from our balcony over wine and hors d'ouevres, then strolled in the garden before returning to the balcony for dinner around the big teak table there, staying on through the dusk into darkness, and well into the night.

I, meanwhile, was joined by the sole male guest--a friend and the husband of a member of Ellie's professional association. We sat and chatted together over dinner and throughout the evening, ending up with a long exposition from him about one of the great passions of his life: the Yiddish language--its history and practice, and its persistence despite the devastation of the Holocaust and the consequent diaspora of the twentieth century. A fascinating story. As one who studied languages and philology many years ago at university, I was able at least to contribute some interesting questions...

We talked, too, about the city and the undergraduate program I directed--also many years ago!--in which we took students for a full semester and immersed them in all aspects of art in the city of Los Angeles. Our first day, which started at four in the morning at the fruit and vegetable markets and lasted the full length of the day, was called "The City as Art" and involved a fast-paced, multi-vehicle tour of corners of Los Angeles that most students had never visited or known about--from the sublime to the ridiculous. We ended up at Forest Lawn cemetery, admiring the prim, fig-leafed copy of Michelangelo's David and the ghastly stained glass version of Leonardo's "Last Supper," viewed to the sound of pious organ muzak.

Interesting, though. My friend pointed out that many young people literally don't know where they are these days, In the geographical sense. The newest generation have grown up with navigation systems in their cars, so they drive without the faintest idea as to where they're going except as an electronic concept projected on those little screens. Without the digital assist, they would be lost. By the same token, we wondered, how many young people grow up with having to understand the basic principles of math? He told me that young employees in his office are astounded by his ability to work out mathematical problems in his head.

To what extent, I wonder, are we in the process of stultifying the human brain with our reliance on those marvelous digital gadgets? Are we at risk of sacrificing our own circuitry by outsourcing it to our machines?

It's today, is it not--or tomorrow--that the much-touted iPhone makes its public appearance. Predictably, there will be mobs of people storming the Apple stores to lay their hands on one. Another piece of miniaturized gadgetry that does everything but fly us to New York... How long will it be before everyone on Earth requires the help of such a device to ascertain where he is? Then we'll all be permanently lost.


Cardozo said...

Assuredly, a "loss of direction" is something to lament. It further removes us from the land, which is (still and always) the source of our survival.

I say...throw all the GPS systems in the lake! (along with the attached autos) We'll all start taking the bus again. But then I definitely won't know where I'm going, cuz I'll be asleep. D'oh!

Mark said...

As a person of this generation, I can fully attest to our devotion to these gadgets.

I lost my phone in the middle of Kansas last weekend (I know where Kansas is, by the way ;)). At first, it was nice to not have the constant distraction and attachment to the world around me, but now I'm in a constant state of panic. What if someone wants to get in touch with me, or if I want to get in touch with someone? What if my car breaks down? How will I let my family know? How did people ever live without cell phones?

Stranger still is that even when I have a land-line to call people from, I don't know their phone numbers. They were all stored in my phone. Very weird.

Perhaps I'm craving and clinging to more things than I know of.

Doctor Noe said...

Peter, you really ought to mention my Yiddish Glossary for Goyim and introduce me to your friend so we may exchange mamaloshen.