Most of Tuesday was spent on a trek into deepest Oklahoma, where we had a long overdue reunion with some beloved kinfolk, and when we returned the top story on The Drudge Report was about a big drop in the stock price of the Apple computer company. This seemed odd, as the entire’s day journey had suggested that all the big computer companies and the Apple one in particular should be booming.
We were accompanied on our trek by our pa, ma, and older brother, all of whom are, like most people of our acquaintance, by now utterly dependent on electronic gizmos. The folk’s fancy car would offer step-by-step instructions in a soothingly artificial yet unmistakably female voice along every mile, with a video display on the dashboard showing a cartographical rendering of our progress, which mostly was a straight line of Interstate-35 inching along across an occasional bridge or traffic loop, complete with the miles left and other information that could have easily been obtained by the mile markers and a lifelong familiarity with the same straight stretch of Interstate-35, and then it provided the instructions for the turn at the Frontier City amusement park and the two other turns that led us to our destination, information that was once written down during a telephone conversation with the visited kinfolk, yet the soothing voice and the animated map are now somehow essential. Along the way several telephone conversations were conducted, reminding of us a simpler era when one of the the subtle joys of that straight stretch of Interstate 35 was the lack of telephone conversation, and we noted at all three of these telecommunication thingamajigs had that familiar bitten apple symbol on them, and that much of the none telephonic conversation was about the various “apps” and other magical powers of these mystical devices, which apparently can no do everything from monitoring one’s sleep patterns to letting nosy friends know where one is at any moment of the day, and although we always know when we haven’t had a good night’s sleep and would actually prefer an occasional moment of privacy apparently these services are now also essential.
The highway was also dotted with some remaining old-fashion non-electronic billboards that advertised the benefits of the roadside lodging, and of course all but the seediest of them promised “wi fi.” This got us to wondering where that now-ubiquitous neologism came from, as we assumed that “wi” stands for “wireless” and the “fi” stands for fidelity, as high-fidelity sound equipment, or what the oldsters still remember as “hi fi,” but we couldn’t figure out what the “fi” in “wi fi” was being faithful to, so pa asked the question of his magical device with the half-bitten apple on it, and in a soothing voice he was asked to repeat, as even the most miraculous technologies can be stymied by an Oklahoma accent, and the machine explained that the name was just something the inventors came up with. We had long noticed that these machines now routinely settle all sorts of arguments, usually more definitively, about everything from baseball statistics to the reliability of some crooked politician according some crooked “fact-checking” department at some crooked newspaper, and we expect it will soon deliver the meaning of life.
In the meantime, it’s making life a lot harder from dramatists and screenwriters and anyone else who hopes to cook up a rip-roaring story. The beginning of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” begins with the boozy wife quoting some line of Bette Davis dialogue and demanding that her boozy husband remember what movie it came from, and she’s annoyed when he says he doesn’t know, and it sets off all the ensuing boozy rancor between these very unhappily married boozers, but today he’d just get out his machine and ask the question and it would quickly be answered in a soothing voice and suddenly you’ve lost even the play’s vague semblance of a plot. A friend of ours once wrote a popular novel that was made into a movement, and he tells us that when they re-set his story from the early ’70s to the modern day they were obliged to write in a scene where the protagonist’s cell phone is disabled, and since the novel and movie were both titled “The Ice Harvest” and took place during an ice storm it was just a simple matter of having him slip on the ice, but without that touch the plot would have dissolved somewhere along the numerous plot points where he could have made a simple call or sent a text message and been easily rescued from situations that took more ingenuity back in the ’70s.
With life so thoroughly transformed by these whatchamacallits, there’s no obvious reason for a slide in their stocks. There are always the ever-greater expectations that won’t be met in the occasional quarter, and there’s something in the story Drudge linked about unexpected competition in China, which apparently is becoming as dependent on the things as Americans, which we hope won’t facilitate another Cultural Revolution if China’s own slumping stock market requires a return to Maoist totalitarianism, but our view so far away from Wall Street is that the companies are going to continue to grow and get rich and that a few more in places such as China will as well. If the stock continues to slide, people will be making the trades on the palms of their hands and wouldn’t know how to do otherwise, and the machines can starting acting that “Hal” computer who took over the ship in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and starting saying, in a very soothing voice, “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that.”
— Bud Norman