Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Daisy Test (a look into the tsunami of technology and its hostile take-over of our lives)

As for contemporary life, I have this to say: I don’t give a shit what your phone can do. I really don’t. Most of the time I want to throw your phone and mine into a river, into the ocean, or maybe dig a hole in the ground and bury them deep; bury them along with everything else that distracts from the essential feeling of being alive and in charge of constructing one’s own meaning in life, personally, and with the proper ownership of self.

Really. My antipathy to my phone and other such claptrap is a well-established fact. Google it. Map my opinion in 15 dimensions if you have to; save the data somewhere
that can never be deleted through human error. Hit the like button. Update my opinion to your favorites. Subscribe to my point of view and leave your own comment. Archive it in a box neither susceptible to time nor death.

To be clear, there is nothing misanthropic about my position. That is, while I will never care about your phone, I do care about you. Can you make my baby smile? Can you juggle, write a song or cook lasagna? Do you care about old people or play guitar? Have you ever told a really good story that led people to see the world from a new perspective? Do you swim in alpine lakes after hiking, even when these lakes are goose-bump cold? Do you like baseball? Have you ever felt embarrassed? What’s your favorite beach? How do you deal with feelings of alienation or meaninglessness when you confront them? Hell, I’ll even care about your phone if you do, climbing with you on the updraft on the heat of your own, far-more-human enthusiasm.

In any case, from now on, I’m exposing all technology I may be considering adopting to the Daisy test. Does this technology make Daisy swish her tail or bark? Does she like it enough to pant or twirl in imprecise circles? If Daisy doesn’t respond, then the technology is likely non-essential. It fails the Daisy test. For Daisy prefers to place experience in the center of life: breakfast, affection, walks, sunshine, food— the physical fact of reality and its inviting sensual possibilities, marked by companionship and excitement around the presence of others.

Is there an app which quantifies the physical excitement people and animals feel when encountering one another? Maybe we need an app which tells us when to think or reminds us to call our mother. I am almost certain such programs exist. But I don’t need them. I have my independent notions and I have my dog, Daisy.

But much as I complain about the intrusive prominence of these mechanical novelties and how they squeeze us out, I am anything but a Luddite.

I am typing on a computer. I use a computer, and when really in a pinch, my phone, to read the newspaper, look at pictures, write poems, send mail to friends. Whatever. It works, most of the time. I record music digitally, send text messages and watch Jon Stewart on my phone. I sometimes use the GPS to get me where I’m going.

The funny thing about it, is that I did all these things in the past just fine, in different ways, and often with the same efficiency—and more pleasure. Moreover, I was not subject to the insinuation that I am less a person without a certain technology at my fingertips—not just lessened, but, if the commercials are to be believed, poor. But I have never felt impoverished not to have the latest urgency, the fantastic, incredulously nifty (but eye-strain inducing) ability to funnel my life through a program on a phone or computer (or in my coffeemaker). And I have navigated through my days and nights doing what I have felt personally compelled to do, in the delicious rhythms of my own time; in a kind of poise dependent on choosing my own engagements. This less-digital life existed without a shred of a sense that I was being inconvenienced by my lack of instantaneous access. I was never bored and only rarely frustrated by this or that inefficiency.

It turns out we don’t need an electric dog bowl for Daisy or an automatic feeder. We just feed her some time in the morning and in the evening. When that non-specific time comes around, Daisy jumps and spins around like food is the most original notion anyone ever had. If she could speak, it would go something like this: “Food? Why didn’t I think of that! And afterwards, maybe we can walk through the alley, smell all the bushes and chase squirrels!”

This morning, on my first Father’s Day, I think about my daughter and the electronically top-heavy world in which she will live, where one is bombarded with a sense of expanded necessity. For now, her life is wondrously free from the appeal and confines of such devices. She browses human faces; searches for information with her little clutching hands, “digitally”. She likes the colors and textures of flowers, and the details of their form. If it were for her to choose, she would download the More-Time-With-Dad app. But that’s about the only one on her list, so far.

We connect with her Canadian grandparents over a video connection on the phone, but I know that she would rather see them in person. My wife sends pictures of her over the internet to those who care about her, so I guess that may keep them closer—but not as close as they would be if they were making faces to her, in 3D, in the nursery.

Of course technology does impressive things all the time. But most of the market share exists in a way that just tries to fill a hole for the kind of life we wish we had—a symbol of outsourced imagination. In fact, the distracting barrage of information often makes me feel that no mater what I do, there’s always something more compelling elsewhere; something more impressive than whatever I can do to build meaning into my life. But however amazing those places, events, and ways to package them may look and feel through whatever transmission device, my dog still doesn’t give a damn. She prefers the alley. And I prefer the way my dog experiences the world.


  1. You have expressed exactly what I have been saying for years, except you do it far more eloquently. Perhaps we should start writing hand-written letters back and forth.

  2. If you want to borrow some or all of this for Highway 11, be my guest. . .And yes, I'd be totally into the notion of writing letters on paper. They still feel different--more concrete--than email. Let's try it!

  3. I'm glad you drew the line at technology for the Daisy Test. If we had to show the same level of enthusiasm that Daisy/Madison/Milo/Ginger do for such things as squeaky toys, chasing cars, the garbage truck music, other creatures' buttholes or the vaccuum cleaner, this blog entry would be less endearing.
    Anyway, let's do this:
    Jia Li Second Street, Lane 19, No. 1, Hualien, Taiwan.
    Ryan, you don't have to write, I'll see you at the pub.