I'm becoming more aware of the natural tempo of using mechanical things. Most of my professional and personal life is spent interacting with electronics in "standby" mode, waiting for the slow human to do something. Thanks to Moore's Law, the computer that I'm typing this entry on can now wait for me over one hundred times faster than my ten-year old laptop at home. Although this is convenient for my job, it does tend to add a certain note of guilty urgency to anything I do. I try not to think about it: I have enough angst without fretting about my machines sitting around waiting-waiting-waiting for me to tickle one of their buttons.
Computer chip designers are constantly working to improve the speed and performance of their devices; I suppose they're driven by the unconscious guilt of breaking the Law, of falling behind that 12-18 month doubling benchmark. I call this guilt Moore's Gnaw: it's that constant nagging push-push-push to make it faster-faster-faster because... well, because Faster is Better, I suppose. I'm not complaining about this upgrade cycle, as there's not doubt that I can do a lot more tasks on my computer more rapidly, and as a software guy, I like being able to run all my tools in one place, in a reasonable amount of time. Retro-minded I may be, but I'm not crazy enough to want to go back to running FORTRAN batches stamped out on punch cards. Thanks, but no. What I am disturbed about is how the hungry maw of the Gnaw has eaten into our culture, and how it's changed us into an instant-consumer as well. The things we make now are designed, used, and disposed of with munching of the Gnaw in the background.
I've proselytized about mechanical machines having a "soul" which microprocessor-based machines lack. It's easy to make comparisons: this computer? Soulless. The Underwood on my right? Full of soul. My cell phone? A husk. Rotary phones? Packed with the stuff. Why? Why does something with a microprocessor on board (my car! my TV! my microwave!) very obviously have no "there" there? I've puzzled about this for a while, and then it hit me. It's been Gnawed away. The tendency to imbue all of our devices with sparkly anxiety-inducing microbrains-that-wait has caused that intangible quality of soul-ness to be eaten up. Without a soul, we don't really care as much about the things we use, or how we're using them, and this gets us on the dreaded upgrade cycle, gathering in new devices in magpie fashion: new phones every year or so, new computers to feed this-year's operating systems, new cameras that double the capacity and quality of last-year's model. Just a lot of husk-swapping, really. And I don't think we're doing ourselves any favors in the process. I am distressed by the trend/fashion statement of wearing Bluetooth headsets permanently stuck in one's ear, little blue light blinking away as the device Gnaws into the owner's brain, waiting-waiting-waiting for some human to pay attention.