Tag Archives: technology

Life Envy: The FOMO

 

Unknown

I want to be living that life. By myself, late at night, sitting in the dark of the back yard with my phone, the dog, and a drink, I actually heard myself say this out loud: I want to be living that life. It’s crazy, I know, but looking sometimes at pictures of people on Facebook doing things you would like to do, having experiences you would like to have, you get this feeling, an inescapable feeling that you are missing out. We call it FOMO. I must admit that I have experienced the FOMO. I try as best as I can to massage my FOMO into something like happiness for the person in the post: I am so glad they get to have this experience. Then, I take it a little bit further by thinking that I am so glad they decided to share this moment with their friends, of which I consider myself one. Then, the conclusion of the exercise is to think or actually say out loud how grateful I am for the experiences I have had, the luck, and the privilege. I know, in these moments, I have had experiences that some of my friends have never had, and I know that I am super fortunate because of that. In 95% of my waking existence on the planet I would not trade my life for anyone else’s. But on this last occasion, when I caught myself expressing the FOMO out loud to no one in particular, to the trees, to the dog in the yard, to the martini I was sipping, to myself, I panicked for a moment. What is it about this that I desire? The person in question may be beautiful. It may be that they seem extremely happy or content. In all likelihood, they are in a place I have always wanted to go, seeing something I have always wanted to see, learning something I have always wanted to learn, successful at something at which I too would like to succeed, or doing something I know I would enjoy but find I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy. It is ridiculous and ridiculously human, a tendency we have always had, to be envious of others, but now exacerbated by social media because we are not only hearing ABOUT the experiences of others, we are seeing them in photo, or seeing and hearing them in video, ALL THE TIME. And that pushes the buttons of desire and envy. But . . .

It’s like meditation. You don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders. Instead, you simply notice its wandering, you pay attention, and then you come back to the breath or the mantra and you continue. Maybe that’s why I said it out loud: I want to be living that life. I was paying attention. It was kind of an alarm set off by my internal brakes to the wheels of envy and desire. This is better than what I suspect a lot of people do: they see their friends and acquaintances living a great life and they begin to feel anxious and sad without being aware of the connection. And we have to remind ourselves, don’t we, that our facebook personalities are self-curated. Some people select only the happiest moments and ignore the trauma and sadness, others, in an effort to be authentic, balance the joy and the suffering, while still others use social media to essentially suffer in public. While the middle way seems most admirable, none of these strategies are inclusive of a life. They’re still just snapshots. Judging me from my facebook posts, it might seem like the only thing I ever do is play the drums and listen to music and that I am an extremely cheerful guy. Only partly true. There are things that make me fearful or anxious; there are issues that need attending in my own inner and outer work; I sometimes question, as William Stafford does, if “what I have done is my life.” It is pointless to haunt one’s self with What If questions. If one is haunted by a What If question, perhaps some action is necessary. But if one is suspicious, self-reflective enough to recognize the FOMO for what it is, sure, go ahead and say out loud, I want to be living that life. In the next moment, though, allow the gratitude to bubble up for this one–and then put your phone away, write a poem or read a book, or have a drink outside with your dog.

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Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year, Redux: Kids These Days, Part the Third–On Being and Unbeing

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This is e. e. cummings

I’ve been writing lately about student behavior. In one blog I commiserated with my elementary school colleagues about young children who cause violent disruptions and I bemoaned the high school apathy I saw at my own school, and in another blog I wrote about surprising teenage shenanigans, you know, like bringing communion wafers to class. Today I want to write about an essay I’m studying with my 9th graders, an excerpt from “Nonlecture Two” by e. e. cummings. In this essay, cummings makes a number of assertions. One, that our idea of home is commensurate to our idea of privacy. Two, most of us have no conception of what privacy really is. Three, our “walls” are full of “holes.” Four (and there are more, but I want to linger here), we have difficulties being here, now, ourselves, and alone, in part, because we are terribly distracted beings, and here I have to quote directly and generously from the essay:

Why (you ask) should anyone want to be here, when (simply by pressing a button) anyone could be in fifty places at once? How could anyone want to be now, when anyone can go whening all over creation at the twist of a knob? What could induce anyone to desire aloneness, when billions of soi-disant dollars are mercifully squandered by a good and great government lest anyone anywhere should ever for a single instant be alone? As for being yourself–why on earth should you be yourself; when instead of being yourself you can be a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand thousand, other people? The very thought of being oneself in an epoch of interchangeable selves must appear supremely ridiculous.

Now, we’ve read a biographical sketch of our poet, and have read and probably even recorded the years during which cummings was alive. We’ve maybe even glossed over the publication date of this essay. But in our attempt at a close reading of this piece, that information does not resurface. Not right away. So here’s a tale of two different classes responding to the same text:

In my first period today, one student, in response to the above passage, in particular to the “pressing a button” and the “twist of a knob,” says, “He’s talking about our smart phones.” At this point in the discussion I am so excited that I can remember nothing of what was said afterwards verbatim, but I clearly remember talk about how our smart phones allow us to go “whening all over creation,” allow us to be “a hundred thousand thousand other people,” and perhaps most ominously, prevent us from being alone, from being and knowing ourselves. And I specifically remember the priceless look on another student’s face as she begins to understand. These moments are the moments I live for as a teacher. And when someone asks the question, “When was this piece written?” Our mouths all fall open with amazement when we remind ourselves that the book i: Six Nonlectures was published in 1953. The knobs and buttons cummings refers to are likely radio tuning knobs, rotary dials, and if one was lucky enough to have a television, the channel selector. The poet saw and (perhaps) exaggerated (maybe) the dangers of his technology but managed to predict with perfect precision the powers and the dangerous reality of our own. Our addictive use of smart phones epitomizes the point he’s making.

Second period. I try and fail to recreate the epiphany from the period before. I fail for a couple of reasons. First, I move against the tenets of this particular strategy that students must construct their own knowledge while the teacher simply records their observations, questions, and conclusions. Instead, I ask a guiding question: “Do you notice in this passage the images of pressing a button or twisting a knob?” Then I admit, “This absolutely blows my mind.” Then I follow up, having already established that the piece was published in 1953: “What knobs and buttons might he be referring to?” In response, students talk about their knowledge of 1950s technology, radio, maybe television. I ask another question: “What do you think of his claim that radio or television might be having these adverse effects on us? Why is your teacher blown away by this?” Crickets. And as I scan the room, I notice a different kind of failure: a number of kids, a much larger number than I would care to admit, stare intently at their smart phone screens. They are, in this moment, “whening all over creation,” distracted by others, being anybody else, incapable of being alone, incapable of grasping the fact that they are the subject and the object lesson of this essay. We are indeed in an “epoch of interchangeable selves.”

Five (I’m continuing here, with the list of the poet’s assertions): poetry is being, not doing. Six: and if you’d like, at whatever distance, to follow “the poet’s calling,”

you’ve got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasurable house of being.

He continues with his seventh, eighth, and ninth assertions, expressed in these two glorious sentences:

I am quite aware that, wherever our so-called civilization has slithered, there’s every reward and no punishment for unbeing. But if poetry is your goal, you’ve got to forget all about punishments and all about rewards and all about self-styled obligations and duties and responsibilities etcetera ad infinitum and remember one thing only: that it’s you–nobody else–who determine your destiny and decide your fate.

I love it that he says that this is what you must do if poetry is your goal. I love that, because I don’t think it’s really what he means. Or, rather, he’s not being literal. Poetry is my life, or, poetry can be your life even if you never write a word! And that’s what my greatest hope is for my students, not that they run out the door with a burning desire to write poetry (although that would be nice), but rather, they live their lives as if they were poems, they recognize that poetry is being, that it’s difficult to be, much easier and “rewarding” to unbe, but that somehow they  gain the wherewithal and the self knowledge to regain their privacy, their aloneness, their sense of self-identity unclouded or polluted by the never-ending noise and distraction of the stupid smart phone, to determine their own destiny and fate so somebody else doesn’t do it for them.

 

 

 

 

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#236: Media Fast, Anyone?

no_social_media

I cannot help it.
I can’t look away.
It’s a train wreck,
a complete cluster,
and every morning
begins with the same
question:

What’s the outrage of the day?

And now that I’m on
a holiday break I’ve got
something like free time
to keep checking in on
the downfall of my
civilization.

I think I need to stop.

While it might make me
more informed, this incessant
checking of the news, it does
nothing for my present
happiness. I remember a
time, about 16 years ago,
before Facebook was a thing,
when I took a break from watching
the news. I perused the paper
at work so as not to live
completely under a rock,
but I spared myself from
the pictures and the talking
heads and the bullshit
advertisements, and I think,
for awhile, it made me feel
better, smarter even, and
certainly, less anxious.

It might be possible to skip
the stuff that makes me anxious
and only do those social things
that are pleasurable or that
create connection with loved ones,
but even these things, as
necessary as they sometimes feel,
can drive me a little drunk
with dependence.

The power and the influence
of the internet has changed
everything. It’s a bombardment
of the senses and its making
me, I fear, senseless.

So I am entertaining the idea
of a fast with little confidence
that I will be successful at its
implementation. I am thinking.

I am thinking.

And with me, that’s how it always
begins: a desire or a thought,
some words spoken or written,
a visualization in repetition,
and then finally an effort
to make something happen.
What mysterious gifts might
take the place of the ubiquitous web?
How long could I stay away?
What will I miss?  And will it matter?

 

 

 

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#149: Unspeakable

Night

Unspeakable

I’m trying to find words
to describe how I feel
when, during a reading
from Elie Wiesel’s Night,
I look up and see students
looking at their phones.
One student, in particular,
looks at me, and without irony,
without hesitation, and without,
I would say, consciousness,
says, as if it were a legitimate
explanation, that she was looking
at the new emoji images
now available to her for instant
texting gratification.
In moments like these,
it is hard for me not to simply
scream bloody murder;
it is impossible for me
to be magnanimous,
or tolerant, forgiving,
impossible not
to single out a move like this
for special public humiliation.
And so I say,
Really?
This is more important
in this moment
than the extermination
of 6 millions Jews in
Nazi concentration camps?
–to which, of course, she
cannot respond and we
move on as if it never happened
and she moves on as if it never
happened and continues to be
distracted by minutia and incapable
of attending with any seriousness
to human suffering.
These are the soul crushing
moments in a teacher’s life,
when the material seems
personally so monumental,
so absolutely engrossing in
its unspeakable horror,
and real, and true, and relevant, too,
while all around the world in the 21st
century people continue to suffer and die
in the wake of oppression and hatred,
that one is rendered mute, impotent
in the face of indifference and ignorance,
grieving and furious at this invasion
into our lives of these technological bobbles
whose sole purpose seems to be the
prevention of thought and absence of mind.
I have to remind myself
that she was one kid–and taken with
the two or three other boys I’ve caught
in the same unit of study playing
Clash of Clans, she is in a tiny minority
careless and thoughtless in the face
of the Holocaust. Conscientiousness,
though, prevents me from dismissing it,
from letting it go, keeps me going
over and over the scene, at first,
obsessively in counter productive circles,
until finally, it becomes a simple commitment:
No one, no one gets off the hook.
Everyone puts down their phones, must look.

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#138: A New Stupid Smart Phone

iphone-5s-08

1.
Stupid, perhaps.  But I bought a new iPhone today
because my wallet case broke, you know the one,
the wallet case I bought two years ago
to hold my i.d., some cash, and a 3G phone
I bought for $50 that was already two years
out of date. The old phone was fine, still,
but the wallet was now in two pieces and
there was no way I was going to carry
around two separate things in my pockets,
a phone and a wallet. Now I have this new
phone on which I can have meaningful
conversations with someone named Siri,
but the at&t store didn’t carry wallet cases,
so now I carry two separate things in my pockets,
a phone on which I can have meaningful
conversations with a person named Siri
in one pocket, and a wallet in the other.

2.
I hope it wasn’t a mistake; I have my doubts.
The at&t people sure did make it easy;
having  lowered my monthly phone bill
by 30 or 40 bucks, having rolled the price of the phone
into that lower payment, they sent me away
feeling like I had spent exactly zero dollars,
walking out of that technological zone with
a phone through which I can have meaningful
conversations with a person named Siri.
What’s worse, I think, is that before,
I really couldn’t give two shits about my 3G,
but I like my new phone; it’s pretty, it does
things, it’s fast, and I can’t quit fondling it.
I’m an adult.  I can handle it.  I am conscious.
This infatuation will pass.  Otherwise,
I have sold my soul to the cell phone devil.

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#54: The School Year Begins with a Crash of the Hard Drive

hard-drive-fire

The School Year Begins with a Crash of the Hard Drive

on which my entire life’s work
as a teacher was “saved.”
My technology guy, bless him,
was able to retrieve nearly
every last god-forsaken item–
except any kind of organizational
feature previously attached.
So all perhaps one thousand
assorted folders, documents, presentations,
audio files, images, film clips,
spreadsheets, and graphics
are identified now only by random
numbers in no particular order
and that makes me feel suddenly
like my teaching life is now
identified only by random
numbers in no particular order
and I don’t like it.
I could be planning, inventing,
decorating, creating new stuff
in this first week of work
before the kids arrive, but
instead, my technology guy
and I will be sifting through
all these thousands of files and naming them
and putting them back into folders
where once again they might be
useful, and where once again,
my life’s work as a teacher,
in ones and zeros, might be
protected and saved
at least until I can retire, please.
Then perhaps, the hard drive
can burn, burn, baby, burn,
because my legacy will be
carried by those who walk out my door
and not what sits, in ones and zeros,
in a box on my desk.

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Of A Twelve Step Program for Young Cell Phone Addicts

I’m serious.  There’s not a day that goes by any more when I don’t tell a student or several students, sometimes repeatedly in a single period, to put their cell phones away.  And lately there hasn’t been a week that’s passed without a serious discussion around the lunch table about the need for some sort of school wide policy about phones.  My school does not have such a policy; it is up to teacher discretion–and that causes some serious angst–because not all teachers handle it the same way, and that inconsistency makes it more difficult for teachers to establish a no-tolerance expectation.

Some teachers confiscate immediately.  Some teachers warn and then confiscate. Some teachers ignore the problem altogether–and either this causes them serious anxiety as they are exceedingly bugged but feel helpless to do anything about it, or they have become, as a survival technique or coping mechanism, totally oblivious to the problem.  It’s a battle many teachers don’t want to fight. Some teachers harass and harangue or appeal to students’ better selves by using a thing called reason. The messages are: I see you doing that, I’m bugged, it’s rude, it’s impeding your success in this moment, so put it away.  This tends to be my mode of operation, a strategy which, woefully, doesn’t work very well, at least in the long term.  They look at me, sometimes sheepishly, they apologize, sometimes sincerely, they put the offending thing away, and then 15 minutes later they’re back at it.  Even less effective, but sometimes amusing, is a habit I have developed lately of simply inserting the phrase “put away the phone” at random intervals during the lesson, sometimes mid-sentence.  “Ezra Pound was one of the first and most famous, put away the phone, translators of ancient Chinese poetry.” I can’t ignore it–because that would be wrong.  And I can’t make myself into a confiscator because. . .because. . .(I’m stalling because this is complicated).

I don’t confiscate because I’m indignant about the idea that I would even have to do such a thing with high school juniors who are several months away from adulthood. I’m incensed that this has become ipso facto part of my job description. I don’t confiscate because it is not my style or my way to be a hard guy.  I don’t confiscate because, if it becomes a struggle–as it often does when students feel a sense of entitlement around their devices or they have come to believe that using their phones at any and all times of day is a basic human right–the resultant adrenaline rush, the anger, the power struggle, these things make me feel shitty and throw off my entire teaching game.

Cell phones didn’t used to be such an issue.  Only a few years ago, the biggest problem, and it happened infrequently, was an inappropriate ringy dingy in an inopportune moment.  Easy problem to fix.  Don’t answer it. Turn off the ringer. Solved. But today, with the advent of the smart phone and all its glories, students are receiving incoming digital information in the way of tweets, facebook posts, instagram messages, and texts–incessantly. They are being bombarded by this stuff 24/7, in every waking moment, and they are loath to pull themselves away, incapable of resisting, obsessed with any little blip on the screen that might amuse them or flatter them or titilate–while I’m trying to teach them about ancient Chinese poetry.  They are addicted, plain and simple.  They need a twelve step program.  They need interventions.  They need a detox.

Here’s what the sharing at the meeting might sound like.  Feel free, if this is your problem, or your kid’s problem, or your spouse’s problem, to use it as a script.

Hello, my name is _____________and I am a Smart Phone Addict.  I admit I am powerless over my cell phone and that it has made my life unmanageable.  My cell phone owns my dumb ass. I spend more time looking at a screen than looking at faces of real people who are in rooms with me.  Even on dates, I am more present with my phone than I am with my date. I am constantly distracted.  I can’t seem to concentrate on any one thing for any length of time–but I can look at my phone for hours at a stretch, anticipating every notification alert with a kind of euphoria that I can’t feel any other way.  While waiting for a message, I like to stroke the phone, tenderly, as if my loving attention will bring other notifications faster.  I sleep with it under my pillow.  The quality of my sleep is suffering, my grades are suffering, real face to face conversations about any substantive topics never occur, my English teacher is always angry at me. I have come to believe that a Power greater than myself could help relieve my suffering.  I have made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God as I understand God. (Or, for the atheists: I have made a decision to control my own behavior through conscientious, deliberate practice).  I have made a searching and fearless moral inventory and find that nothing about the Smart Phone makes me smarter.  Nothing about the cell phone makes me a better person or helps me live a better life. I am ready for God as I know God (atheists: I am ready) to remove all my defects and shortcomings.  I’ve made a list of people I’ve harmed, insulted, ignored, dismissed, and angered by my incessant cell phone usage.  I will make direct amends with these people whenever it is safe to do so.  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps (even atheists can do this),  I will carry this message to other Smart Phone Addicts and practice these principles in all my affairs.  Thank you, brothers and sisters.

That’s what I’d like to hear from some of my young charges who seem to be incapable of turning off their phones.  I would so much like them to open their eyes to the fact that all the kids around them who are NOT engaged in Smart Phone Addict behaviors are twenty times more successful in almost every conceivable way.  In the best of all possible worlds, I would like young people to come to these conclusions and CHANGE, rather than devise some punitive measure (anything from a giant cell phone compactor to a less draconian cell phone ban) to force them to comply. But maybe that’s pie in the sky rose colored glasses.  Goodnight.  I have to get the iPad away from my son so he can take a bath.

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The Imaginary Commencement Address

Greetings, class of 2012! You’ve worked hard and you’ve finally arrived at this momentous day, which, just like yesterday was, and the day before yesterday, and just like tomorrow will be and the day after tomorrow will be again, the first day of the rest of your life.  But yesterday you weren’t graduating from high school, and tomorrow you will have already graduated, so this day is in fact set apart, appropriately, as a special day, a day on which you participate in a singular right of passage away from childhood and into adulthood, whatever that means. It sounds kind of scary, actually.

I’d like to begin by thanking you all for not inviting me to speak at graduation.  I appreciate that.  It really takes the pressure off. But even though I have not been invited to speak, I will speak anyway, at least in imagination and spirit, because I CAN, and because I have a few things to say.

I greeted many of you four years ago in English 9. You were silly.  You were nutty.  Some of you were interested in learning.  Some of you were not.  Some of you worked hard.  Some of you didn’t.  Most of you are here today, but others of you could not join us this evening.  That should give us some pause.  (Pause). But you were a sweet group.  I mean to say, even though as freshmen, and even more so as sophomores, you were sometimes frustrating to work with (remember that time I got so angry I walked out of the classroom,  and that other time I slammed my open hand on a desk to get your attention and hurt myself?), you were, on the whole, nice, kind, caring. I really appreciate that.  To me, being a decent human being weighs on the scale much more significantly than good grades and academic prowess.  So I will remember you for being decent human beings.  We had fun together. Thank you.

Others of you I did not meet until your junior year.  You came into American Literature or IB Junior English knowing nothing about me–and we got on pretty well.  We studied witches, the Declaration of Independence, the roaring 20s, Coyote, poetry, monster-making, alcoholism, Chile’s dark past, America’s dark past, and love during the Mexican Revolution–and through the Exhibition Project (which you all loved) and the Individual Oral Presentation (which you all loved), you made your voices and your learning heard above the roof tops of the world.  Good work, people.

And I was fortunate enough to have about 37 of you in my IB Senior English class and my good buddy and Evil Twin Mr. Hawking had another 25 to 30 of you.  I think we studied some things in the context of that particular curriculum that might be appropriate to highlight here, on this occasion–in case you missed it the first time, or, in case you were not in those classrooms.  Let’s think of the next few minutes as a “review for the test,” so to speak.  The test we’re talking about is a long one.  It begins right this second.  And it ends–well, it ends–at the end–hopefully a really long time from now. I want you to do well on the test, so listen up.

We studied literature about the Vietnam war and we learned this:

Wars suck.  If you can help it, don’t fight them.  Instead, fight to prevent them. How do you do that?  Live peacefully in your families and in your neighborhoods.  I believe in the ripple effect that good living can have on everything and everyone that surrounds us.  I don’t mean pure living.  I mean good–good in that no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally; that everything and everyone that comes into direct contact with you is left in a better shape, condition, or state than it or he or she was before your paths crossed.  Live peacefully in and with your own mind.  You have to believe in the possibility of a world without war.  You have to start there.  And know this: that you can believe all of this and fall short of the mark over and over.  You will fail.  As I have.  And then what? We do what we can to make things better, to make amends, to forgive and be forgiven, to avoid past mistakes and destructive patterns.  In a 2011 joint venture between Vietnam and the U.S., 32 million dollars was invested for an Agent Orange clean up in Central Vietnam, nearly forty years after the end of the war. It’s never too late, people. And for those of you who serve: thank you, first of all.  And secondly, help us imagine collectively and then realize an armed forces whose primary job is to help relieve suffering and not to inflict it.

We studied literature about American slavery and the Troubles in Ireland, and we learned that history matters. It teaches us primarily not about the way things were, but WHY things are the way they are.  And if you don’t understand that, you’re living in the dark. History also teaches us this one abiding truth that, if we allow it to, can guide our lives:  nothing worth achieving comes easily.

And we studied post World War II existentialist drama and we came away with this: Live your own dream, not someone else’s.  Learn to distinguish the voice in your head from the voices coming from your cell phones and the internet and the television and your friends and family, all of which or all of whom think they know you better than you know yourself.  Technology is a tool, but many of us live as though we are tools to the technology.  Don’t be a tool.  There’s a lot of noise in this world competing with the good noise, the music of your own thoughts.  Try to find some way, some silent space within your lives, to listen to that music within.

And from Beckett we learned that it’s okay to wait, but we have to be careful, because all of what we believe we are waiting for might already be here. And this is the trap, right, that Beckett was describing: in grade school we wait for junior high (which is absolutely crazy when you think about it), in junior high we  wait for high school, and in high school we  wait for college and the concurrent and/or subsequent unemployment.  And once we’re in college or unemployed we wait for a job, a family, a kid, and then we wait for the kid to go through grade school, middle school, high school, college, job, marriage, grandkids, and . . .  Good grief. Stop waiting for life to begin.  Your life has already begun.  You’re in it.  Live it. Be here now.  Tomorrow will come, I guarantee it.

Notice I didn’t say anything about writing a great essay or analyzing text. Don’t get me wrong, here.  It’s not that I don’t think these things are important–but they are not the end–they are the means to an end, and those of you who have taken advantage of your education know this and those of you who haven’t will learn it.  Learning to use your mind well–and I think that has been or should have been the goal of the last 13 years of your school experience–will help you create a more peaceful world, will help you understand and make sense of your society and your relationships, will help you to think your own thoughts and follow your own dreams, and will help you learn to live in the present moment as if it were the only moment left to you.

With love, deep appreciation for all that you have taught me, and with the best wishes for each and every one of your days, congratulations class of 2012.

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Monkeys Typing Shakespeare: Plagiarism’s New Frontier

A teacher friend came into my classroom this morning with a new internet discovery which proves once and for all that it is in fact possible to get a group of monkeys together with some typewriters (read: computers with internet access) who will, given a little time and some encouragement, recreate the works of Shakespeare.  My teacher friend was introducing me to a new website called Essaytyper.com and he prefaced his introduction with the query, “Can I show you something really scary?”  Here’s how it works.

Let’s say you’re a monkey–or a very desperate (or lazy) high school or college student.  You’ve got to write a paper on Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller. You go to Essaytyper.com and on the homepage you’ll find a friendly looking little post-it note type thing with the following message:  “Oh No!  It’s finals week and I have to finish my _______ essay immediately!”  You, my monkey friend, type in “Death of a Salesman” into the blank.  Now, this would be difficult if you were an actual monkey, but you’re not, and you may have to hunt and peck, but eventually you’ll type in the 19 characters and spaces of this particular title.  Now, push the little graphic pencil button with your cursor or hit ENTER.  Wait for it.  Wait for it.  What do you see?

A title.  That’s all.  A title: “The Fluidity of Death Of A Salesman: Gender Norms & Racial Bias in the Study of the Modern Death Of A Salesman“.  Hey, wait a minute.  You wanted a paper to turn in to your English teacher, and, while this is a very fine sounding title, you don’t know what it means and couldn’t begin to write a paper on such a topic.  Something possesses you, though, and, even though it takes a little bit of effort, you put your fingers to the keyboard and type two keys. For some reason inexplicable to you, you choose a capital G.  Voila.  The word “Death” appears.  Intuitively, you push the space bar.  The words “of a” appear on the screen.  For every single key you stroke, no matter which one, you get at least a complete word and sometimes two or three words. You’ve already got the hang of it.  You begin randomly flailing your fingers all over the keyboard as if you were a toddler, or, need we say it, a monkey.  As a result of flailing around on the keyboard for, say, 30 seconds, you’ve got three pages of pedestrian but correct prose about the play in question.  It appears to be mostly, if not all, plot summary;  it has nothing to do, thus far, with the title, but man, you feel good.  Another 30 seconds of “labor” and you’ll have a complete paper to turn in to your beloved English teacher.

Gone are those pesky days of actually reading things you might steal.  Gone are the days of cutting and pasting from Sparks Notes, or god forbid, actually typing material straight from a book.  Gone is the laborious task of reformatting those things you’ve cut and pasted!  Oh joy!  It is now easier than ever to cheat oneself out of an education!  It’s now easier than ever to get schoolwork done without exercising your brain in the least bit!  And if your teacher is a total dummy and doesn’t care if you begin a literary essay with three pages of mindless plot summary, and because the writing that appears in front of him or her in  the form of a paper written by YOU is really not very good after all, you might just get away with this caper.

Now, to the website author’s credit, there is a cautionary note through the “What is this” link.  It reads: “EssayTyper uses a patented combination of magic and wikipedia to help you type your paper–fast!  That said, please don’t ever try to use this legitimately. The magic part is not real. . . And that’s plagiarism. Questions? Shoot me a note.”

Okay–so this guy or gal doesn’t want the site used as a means to cheat in school or otherwise steal intellectual property.  There’s no advertising on the site or offers to buy papers or any of that other smarmy bullshit you find out there on sites that help people cheat.  I think I understand that the spirit of the thing is whimsical and fun: “I’m typing absolute random crap and I’m making real words and coherent sentences and paragraphs!” But that’s only novel and fun for awhile, and inevitably, many young ones are going to use the site for evil purposes and the author of EssayTyper probably knows it.  I’ve got an idea.

Let’s get back to the monkeys.  Now, it’s one thing that I’m able to type a mediocre paper on almost any subject by hitting random keys on the keyboard which somehow magically imports text from wikipedia, but it would be quite another thing if I  could write the plays of Shakespeare!  That would be almost exciting.  And it would be quite another more impressive thing if I was a monkey typing Shakespeare.  I mean, as a monkey, I wouldn’t understand that I was typing Shakespeare, but the human beings gathered around to watch and record the thing for all posterity would understand–and they would be giddy with amusement and wonder.  Get enough monkeys together and in an afternoon they could produce The Complete Works.  That’s what the author of EssayTyper needs to do.  Shakespeare, after all, is in the public domain–and I’m sure there are philosophers enough interested in pursuing The Monkey Question.  Who knows, maybe it’s already in the works.

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