Talk to the fork
Remembering a computer-free world will soon be a rarity
The Circling Fin
Some day it will be unusual to remember a time before computers ran the world. And lest doubters argue that they only check their email once a fortnight, bear in mind that any smartphone, tablet or navigation system is a computer. A French firm recently produced a utensil, the HAPIfork, that sounds a warning if the diner is eating too fast. That’s a computer too. And if these devices stopped working overnight, there’s little you could get done in town tomorrow beyond getting a haircut – assuming your barber doesn’t use a modern cash register, itself a computer of course.
If you are over 30, you are now in the rare (and steadily rarer) position of having seen life before it was saturated by silicon-based technology. There is something intriguing about people whose lives span two epochs: the world before and after electric light for instance. Or those very few people whose lives were so long that they breathed the air of three centuries, among them the poet, and erstwhile Westport resident, Colm de Bhailís: born 1796 (before Wolfe Tone’s rebellion), died 1905 (by which stage the oldest person alive today, Misao Okawa, was already a schoolgirl).
But my life, and perhaps yours also, straddles two ages, because I remember a time when humans had only ever walked on earth, before the moon landing of 1969.
That pioneering lunar tourist, Neil Armstrong, has now returned to the stardust whence he came. Armstrong was special: Beyond being famous, the Apollo 11 Commander was humble – and sensitive – enough to render the rest of us some vital perspective. These are his thoughts, looking across the celestial chasm at the misted-marble we call home:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
That cosmic epiphany ushered in a new epoch. When I was lecturing in the US I enjoyed telling students, to their surprise, that I remembered seeing live pictures of the first man on the moon. Perhaps, if I live to the 2080s, I might be the only human alive able to say that, though I am not sure that’s a prospect to relish.
But even people with much shorter lifespans can live first in one age and then another. The ancient Roman politician and thinker Seneca lived in a time when older people around him could remember life before windowpanes. In another book I was reading recently one character recalls her grandmother being the first woman in England to use a fork: I hope it had the good manners not to beep at her.
The world is changing so fast now that our children may live to see the world transformed many times over: Let’s hope that, however fast we spin, we all remember that the whole kit and caboodle can still fit behind a spaceman’s thumb.
Fin Keegan is a writer based in Westport. This column is based on his weekly radio essay, heard on WRFM radio, and online at thecirclingfin.com.