Randy's Corner Deli Library

08 December 2009


Humans have a funny way of calculating time. When we're born, we start out at zero. A month goes by and people stop you in the street to ask "how old is your gorgeous baby?" and the reply that usually comes out, until plenty more than a year passes, is "one month". So it is that when I celebrated my 49th birthday on the 16th, I entered into my 50th year on earth. When I do hit 50 in 2010, it will be beyond the calculation I made as a sophomore in Sheldon Bryer's American history class as a sophomore at Sullivan High School in Chicago in 1976, the last time I had a snow day.

I remember sitting in class behind a Greek girl named Zoe who hung with the Howard Street Greasers, the local street gang and who liked to suck on LSD-coated sugar cubes with her friend whose name has faded into the shadows of memory but who did in fact sit across the aisle from her, kitty corner from me, just, I guess, to pass the time while being bored by the writing of Thomas Jefferson and the thought of taking yet another exam on some arcane feature of American government like the Constitution, a document whose fifth amendment undoubtedly came in handy for those LSD-suckers at some point later in their lives.

As opposed to dropping acid in class, I got lost in history and my future, as I actually enjoyed Mr. Breyer's class, though I have to admit that I could and still do daydream with the best of them, only back then it was a particular one that I remember so vividly now, the one where I actually calculated my age as the years went by.

In particular, I remember wondering aloud in my mind "how old will I be in the year 2000"? and coming up with the answer: 40. That, for a 15 year old, was a very long way off; in 2009, it seems, as we come to the end of the first decade of (deep voice) the twENTy First century, the name of a television program hosted by the late Walter Cronkite, like it was a long time ago. And it was. Life has changed so much since the innocent days of a kid from Rogers Park into a thing that I could hardly imagine sitting there in the musty rooms of that old brownish-red brick building at 6632 N. Bosworth Avenue, an edifice which contained the dreams and fantasies of so many teens like me, the hopes for the future and fears for what it might mean. I had no idea then what I'd be like now, or what life could be like, what the world might be like.

There was no internet. If you wanted to make a telephone call, you went to a black pay phone and dialed, rotary-style, for a dime. If you wanted to talk to someone, you either called them or just stopped over. As a senior in 1978, computers were in their infancy. Could you have imagined the role silicon would play in our lives? I knew that computers were neat and big deals, but the extent to which they have come into our lives was, believe me, not on my radar screen. As a kid whose mathematics lessons stopped after my freshman year in college, who took no science classes in college beyond "Weather for Political Science Majors", it was all sort of irrelevant.

Life for me was lived and still is lived by connecting with people. Computers and technology have come into our lives, at least from my vantage point, to attempt to connect people to people. That is the ultimate purpose, isn't it? Whether it's stores, blogs, or information, it's still all about people, the common denominator for all that we do and all that we are.

Who would have imagined the advent of love in an online parallel universe? Whether it's online or offline, it's about people. Information, please? Why? So we can be more productive, more effective, better people. The only lesson now is to reconnect with the time we used to have when silence at some times dominated, when quiet was not something to be feared but treasured, when all the electronics in the house, which mainly meant the radio and the television, which contained the three major networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, and in Chicago, WGN and WFLD, Channel 32, and the Spanish station, Channel 26. Off.

So is it the case that instant information has made our lives better? Are we better people for all the new data? In some ways, most ways, the answer is of course yes. In other ways, it has made us more cynical; people find channels of information that fit and reinforce already held beliefs and it's the task of the truly enlightened to get information from places and people who hold views that are dissimilar to our own, outside our comfort zones and to keep open minds about what it is that other people are saying and why. I am sure that both Zoe and her LSD-sucking friend as well as Mr. Breyer would agree.

But the task these days is knowing when to return to silence and simplicity and more importantly perhaps, why. To regain some measure of perspective I think has been lost in the constant red click-clack of everyday living, bombarded as we are by so much, thinking we always have to be in motion, productive, functioning at doing something, anything, to make something. For me, the most important feature of the new decade will be for those of us who can analyze the data efficiently in order to reassert some measure of control over our lives despite the ubiquity of Google and Microsoft, to regain the simplicity in our lives that, I think, we all long for and for many of us, me included, lost somewhere between Windows 95 and Vista. Let us hope that 2010 will bring us a renewed sense of optimism, simplicity and love that transcends mere data and which allows us to truly become who we really are.

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