Monday, July 15, 2013

What does work mean?

                                   What I heard was: “The old people didn't sit at their computers all day. They worked. They worked hard.” The man was adamant. I myself wonder every day about computers and work. Some people hate technology. How do gadgeteers talk to them? Why would they want to? The old people say that work should involve the hands. Any person at work should be employing his body—even women and girls don't get a pass—, especially the hands. And that's why, in their opinion, America is in decline. I know personally young people who would rather sit in front of their computers than eat. I have often wondered if that dedication can be transferred to the idea of work. Or are they actually doing work without being aware of it?
   K., a young man, a high school graduate, is sometimes required to participate in “chores”. He is thoroughly glued to the computer. While we work in the barn, he says to me a peculiar thing. “It is like my computer is calling to me.” Those few minutes away from the computer are hard for him. He has no interest what-so-ever in the work in front of him, which is physical work.
   K. says, “I've been thinking about setting up an invention that attaches over your head...(like a cap)...and it traces down your brain waves and makes a sort of map. Brain waves are electrical impulses. Why shouldn't you be able to transfer the electrical impulses on the map to a computer? Then you can clone computers, as many as you want...(which will act like you do).” He's always making these sorts of statements. “The stuff I think, man is it weird! If anybody else thought the way I do, they'd be sad. It's dark.” These sorts of statements are very common in geekdom.
  What he does on the computer mostly is play games. He plays these games proudly. It is as if a switch has been shut off in his brain so that the illusory figures on the monitor interact with real life. Bombs go off, bodies disintegrate in detail at 60+ frames per second. You can almost hear him sweat. He thinks he is at war, and this is real. To say to him that he is not accomplishing anything would make him upset. “Watch,” he says. He starts up a game. Within a few seconds he has all the enemy blown up. “See?” He says proudly, looking at the “victory” slogan printed on the monitor. It is a drama played out in millions of families all over the world.
   I have commented on this subject with a neighbor. His kids, two girls, do not seem to suffer from this particular obsession. I remember K. playing with a Game Boy for hour after hour when he was five years old. The neighbor said, “Too bad he couldn't find a job doing it.” He also noted the health risk. The lack of exercise and careless eating habits result in poor health.
   And yet I admire K.'s devotion. He doesn't care whether he starves. Because he is almost twenty, I remind him that he should get a job in order to make money and buy things. He is so far from the real that he says getting a job to work for money is “ridiculous”.  “It is hard for me to spend a lot of time working with stupid people.” He does appear to admire old things. His electronics are so outdated and slow they are trash. The fact that he could buy new stuff with the money he made at work does not seem to impress him much.
   On the other hand, K., though a very young man, is enjoying an obsessive pattern. He stays up all night and in the morning he is too tired to stand up. He could, on the other hand, be drinking and partying all night. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has apparently rejected his pattern as an addiction, although the drinking and partying is amply covered. Obsessive games playing was not included in the 2012 update. Many parents put up with it, in fact they inculcate it in their children because they indulge themselves similarly, and encourage it by example.
   A computer is an easy date; you can get somewhere with it just by pressing a button, and so there is a quaint impression of satisfaction that does not need to end in a hurry. There does not seem to be any age limitation: older men and women are similarly attracted; they think it makes more sense to stay at home with their computer than go to work. It can get so far out of hand that it is hard to get out of it. As one man said to me: “Something bad has to happen.” His wife moved out. He has two daughters. He managed to quit, and since then he has kept it within reasonable limits.
   Games bore me, but my writing is done on a gadget. My writing is way out of control. I should go to a psychiatrist. I deny that I am a games player, but I wouldn't call writing work. It is not a game because my greatest concern has to do with the meaning of culture. It is important to struggle with culture; it is not a game, it is a life and death struggle; whether a civilization declines or bubbles up depends on the outcome. I'd like to convince other people that they are well employed when struggling with culture too.
   Like any games player I am constantly trying to improve the gadget I employ. This is the part I call work: getting the gadget to actually do what I want it to is sometimes not simple. I also go to work; I have a real job; I enjoy the buzz and I enjoy my comrade fellow workers, and they are not stupid, no more stupid than I am. In my job I sometimes have to use my muscles. I can't sit around, and I have to get along. Getting along with my comrade workers is tricky and difficult at times. Getting along with the insane, convincing them to stop hurting themselves, is sometimes even worse than difficult. Unlike a computer you may not like what happens when you press their buttons.
   What I heard was: “The old people left time to play, too. Not too much though.” 

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