Damn machines

I was in the post-office picking up my hate mail (one from my mom), when I happened to pass by an average young man depositing quarters into a stamp machine. One of the quarters fell all the way through for no apparent reason and the man let out a hissing, exasperated moan and if I hadn't been right there I'm fairly certain he would have whipped out his manhood and peed on the contraption. By the way, I don't typically use the word "manhood" in any context, but Happy Stan says his kids have been reading my blog for tips on how to avoid a miserable adulthood, so I'm occasionally censoring my lingo.

Where was I? Oh yes, the post-office. I was right there with that poor guy, remembering the many times I've deposited change into the snack machine at work, my mouth watering, my eyes growing large at the site of the peanut butter cups just behind the plastic. And I remembered the many times the machine wouldn't take my quarters (and the one time I slammed my fist against the plastic sheild and swore revenge). I remembered all the times my computer crashed just as I was about to send a brilliant email to my girlfriend explaining why I was right and she was wrong about everything we'd ever discussed, including my tendency to ignore what she was saying after several sentences. I remembered the times my computer had a small glitch and all I had to do to fix it was to clean up a few things, but cleaning up a few things caused 7 new problems to arise, and then when I tried to clean up those 7 things, 49 new problems arose until finally I tossed my computer in front of a Sprite truck that happened to be speeding by the dumpster where I sleep. I remembered the time my Grandpa Schlomo got parking tickets for parking in a space when the parking meter was broken. Does that really make sense?

What's going on here besides my own slippery descent into madness? It's machines. Computers. Automated answering services. Televisions. Blackberrys. Cell phones. Parking Meters. They're everywhere and they're making life even less personal than it already is. We're turning into anti-social, isolated creatures, on par with sharks and TV talk show hosts. Whenever I'm at the airport, I always try to get into the line that will allow me to talk to a human being, even though checking in electronically might be a tad faster and less likely to lead to a conversation that would include the word "carry-on." I do this because I work with computers and I know computers fuck up all the time. And they're inflexible. You can't push an incorrect button on a machine and expect it to say, "hey, that's okay, you're just a squishy, idiotic human being, like me, I'll just switch your seat so you get to sit next to that hot tomato after all!" I like to be able to say to a human being, "I'd like the burger medium rare, but hold the fries and can I get a salad?" Even the least intelligent human being understands nuance. Machines understand 1 and 0.

Here's a quote from a New York Times article that I read on line: "A study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona that gained wide attention this summer found that too much computer use can isolate one further from a shrinking circle of confidants." No, really? Cleary, those who funded this study either don't get out much or they're wild surfer dudes wondering why fewer and fewer folks are hitting the shore every week to catch a few tasty waves.

So when I slam my hand against the plastic casing of the snack machine, I'm really expressing the frustration of all humanity. I'm desperate for human interaction, for someone to say, "sorry sir, here's your peanutbutter cups, now why don't you go sit down in the kitchen and think happy thoughts about streams and squirrels."

All of this is our own fault. We thought machines were making our lives easier, but instead we're turning existence into one isolated, numbing experience after another. There are too many so-called humans, now, that are more automated than any machine you'll ever meet. That's not life. That's more like war, just with slower deaths. Which reminds me: a friend of mine produced a TV show (speaking of isolating electronic devices) recently about ways the world might end. One of them was: "machines take over." Maybe that's already happened...



Some days I have profound thoughts, like the day I realized that Mel Gibson is not my real father, as my mother insists, because he couldn't possibly be Jewish -- what Jew ever had an Australian accent, come on! But today is not a day I'm having any profound thoughts, which has led me to write about something that anyone who has ever had email finds annoying: spam. And not the kind that's tasty to eat with eggs, jam and toast, but the kind that pours into my email inbox at every hour of the day. Spam for Vioxx, for Viagra for estranged generals looking to use my bank account to make me a multi-bazillionaire. I hate spam like tall men hate airplane seats, like construction workers hate powerful winds, like my skin hates the rest of my skin when I'm watching Oprah Winfrey on television.

First off, who the hell likes spam? I have trouble conjuring an image of someone pathetic enough to happily open any email that hits his Inbox: I picture a large, shaggy man with no pants and grizzlybear back-hair sitting in a ragged trailer set down in the middle of the desert with a cable running from his computer to the nearest city (probably Nevada). I believe it was The Beatles who wondered where all the lonely people come from. I don't know that they ever got an answer to that question, but I do know this: those folks aren't lonely anymore, they have THOUSANDS of new friends who write them every day.

It might be presumptious of me to assume that anyone likes spam, but I'm giving the spammers the benefit of several doubts. Why would they keep spamming if it didn't work? Either they're crazy (well, they are crazy), or they're drumming up business this way. So lets assume there is a segment of the population of the earth who like nothing more than receiving email ads for things that they absolutely must have. And how would they know they needed those things if they didn't get emails announcing their existence? How stupid am I? Or, as Grandpa Schlomo would say, "You're a schmuck, now pass the pork chops and the magic markers."

I read somewhere, probably in the New York Times during a dream, that the number of spam emails is greater than the number of real emails sent by real people. Which begs at least one metaphysical question: which are the "real" real emails? Huh? Ponder that! No, don't. Spam is not real email and quantity is only better than quality when it comes to champagne, ice cream and Zsa Zsa Gabor. But it does make me wonder about the quality of email in the first place. Remember a time way, way back, when people wrote carefully crafted letters? Those days are gone -- suggest writing a letter to someone and you'll be crushed by their manic laugh and soul-crushing punch to your solar plexus. Folks don't have time to write anything of substance anymore. In fact, most folks (especially lazy bloggers) don't even have the time to even think anything of substance anymore. They're too busy watching shows with words like "ghost," "spirit," "telepathy," and "Jay Leno" on the television. And lord knows we have to be fed constant stimulation: in my office building they recently put up ridiculous TV screens in all the elevators that shout out useless statistics and news all day. Who cares what Brad and Angelina are doing, besides their press agent and 2.4 billion people?!

Oh wait, I was talking about spam. Err, spam. So what to do about it. I have several suggestions. First, make it illegal. I know, that probably treads on at least one amendment to the Constitution, but I wonder if the founding fathers or the various amenders ever envisioned their lofty ideals being used principally to sell erectile dysfunction medication (though Happy Stan points out that those guys NEVER smile in paintings, so who knows...). Do democratic principles necessarily even go with capitlist ones? An unoriginal thought to be sure, but worth pondering next time some spam hits your Inbox. Like now. And now. Now. Another thought to stop spammers: track 'em all down, put them in a city that no one is using anyway (Phoenix?), build really high fences and then force feed them all the medication they've been selling. Then film it. Now that's some television that'd be worth seeing. Now I'm getting hungry -- yup, for spam and eggs.