I write in celebration of the Tahitian sailors who, centuries ago, made their way across thousands of miles of open, starless seas to reach the Hawaiian islands without the benefit of modern navigational technology. In order to detect ever-so-subtle changes in the ocean currents that could throw them off course, these noble primitives would periodically place their testicles on the wooden floors of their canoes. I am a Tahitian sailor. I have no computer.
Yes, I am one of the very few people in the world, it seems, who cannot tweet, e-mail, Google, Facebook, or word-process. I can’t even text while I’m driving. I am unconnected. The people who used to be my friends now take an anthropological interest in me, as if I were a member of a cargo cult in New Guinea or an elder of some isolated tribe in Lower Baboon’s Asshole. The only way I have of communicating with these people is by telephone, but most of them no longer bother to return my calls, even though I invariably punctuate them with a bright, cheery, increasingly desperate “Kink-a-doodle-doo!”
I’m typing this column on the same kind of machine I’ve been utilizing for more than a quarter of a century. It’s called a typewriter. You may not have heard of it. It’s a large contraption that makes a terrible racket and uses “ink.” On a recent trip to Hawaii, the security people were quite fascinated with it, and the other passengers took me for a mad scientist with a supercomputer. “I’ve never seen one before!” exclaimed a young girl in an Aggies T-shirt. “I can’t believe it!”
“Pinch yourself,” I said.
My no-tech lifestyle has not stopped me from providing what is now called “content” to the media outlets of the twenty-first century. Recently I typed up a story for the website the Daily Beast and faxed it to them. A few hours later my editor called. I could tell he was trying to be polite. “We got your fax,” he said. “The only two people who’ve ever faxed their work to us are you and Gay Talese.” I told him I didn’t mind the company. If you don’t know who Gay Talese is, you should Google him sometime. I can’t help you there. Hell, I can’t even Google Jesus.
It gets increasingly lonely to be the only one left on the outside looking in. I turn to old friends like Willie Nelson and Don Imus for wisdom and advice, but they’ve both gone radically high-tech and never miss a chance to twist the knife. To be fair to Imus, he’s always hated talking on the telephone. “You don’t have to join a chat room or download porn,” he told me recently, “but you ought to at least be living in the twentieth century.” Willie will use the telephone, but only when he finishes texting with Kourtney Kardashian. (Willie’s also on Twitter, they tell me; if my ass was as high as his ass, I’d be tweeting too.) Just as the Internet, e-mailing, and texting have put the final nail in the coffin of the lost art of letter writing, so too do they appear to have relegated Alexander Graham Bell’s seminal invention to the phone booth of history.
I’m getting it from all sides now. My old pal Steve Rambam, a private investigator, has been hounding me to go digital for years. Rambam has chased (and caught) Nazis in Canada, parachuted with the IDF, and found missing persons all over the world, so he’s hard to dismiss as a geek.
“Don’t be a moron,” he says. “How many books have you written?”
“Let’s see,” I answer. “I think it’s been about thirty-one books I’ve churned out—I mean, carefully crafted.”
“You see? We could be making those books available to a whole new generation. E-books! Audio books read by the author! I’ll set it up for you. You know those obnoxious little five-year-olds you see in the backseats of their parents’ cars listening to their iPods? Pretty soon they’ll be listening to Kinky.”
“Yeah, but I never liked saying f— in front of a c-h-i-l-d.”
It isn’t just Willie, Imus, and Rambam. Suddenly everybody I’ve ever met is inviting me to join the tech orgy. People are herd animals, I think to myself. Those who stray from the herd risk being left behind, even if the herd is headed over a cliff. The majority, it seems, is always wrong. The crowd always picks Barabbas. The crowd shouted, “Kill Jesus! Free Barabbas!” Well, it’s been a few thousand years and we haven’t heard all that much from Barabbas. He doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. He’s never saved a soul or even won a football game. Yet they come at me like smiling zombies, extolling the praises of this kind of computer or that kind of software; attractive, insane, unemployed young people whose lives are spinning out of control want to teach me how to text; and all across this wretched, wussed-out, Wi-Fi world, 500 million Facebook freaks want only to hang around after Elvis has left the virtual building. I am on Facebook, they tell me, but of course I’ve never seen it. The only time I ever see my face, as the Steven Fromholz song puts it, is when I’m looking at “The Old Fart in the Mirror.” I have, however, updated the title to one of my old songs: “Waitress, Please, Waitress, Come Sit on My Facebook.”
It feels as if we’re being dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century by people who have nothing to say and many ways of saying it. Mankind’s consuming passion for technology itself can be described as Edgar Allan Poe once described the game of chess: “What is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound.” I continue to cling to the antiquated notion that real cowboys don’t tweet. There are just fewer and fewer of