Archive for April 29th, 2008

April 29, 2008

Technology to the rescue

I am just here thinking what a truly amazing world we live in where technology allows us to communicate across thousands of miles with just the click of a button. More amazingly it is completely free provided both sides have internet access, a computer and Skype ( or any of a number of other programmes). Not so many years ago such things would have involved booking a satellite and spending untold thousands of dollars for a few minutes. I am a complete technology junkie but when I had to speak to my friend Karissa and her husband in Dubai a short while ago the reality of what I was doing struck me in the middle of our short conversation. It is rather amazing that as a species we become so used to technology that we just tend to take it for granted . It would do us all a world of good to sit back sometimes and think of the ingenuity and scientific interaction that had to take place to make any of these things possible. That little icon click on my part was the end result of countless years of work by networking minds, a brainwave on the part of Tim Berners Lee, sneaky attempts by a couple of people trying to make pirating software ( which led to them developing Skype) and  decades of work developing chips, software and even the UNIX underpinnings of my operating system. All of this allowing me to take for granted the fact I can help a friend in Dubai get some information in a real time video conference.

The modern world and computers allow us to multitask like never before though I am pretty sure we are pushing the limits of our brains already. As someone who can frequently be seen driving while smoking and texting I know that our ability to pursue multiple tasks is already pushing us into a zone where we are frequently endangering life and limb. The art of concentration which has given us pretty well all of our great works of art and literature is heading for extinction as we wrestle with so many things trying to grab our attention. Like many writers I often find myself trying to concentrate on getting a sentence down while simultaneously monitoring my RSS feeds, MSN, YAHOO, AIM, my email inbox and that half-finished game of X-Words icon I see lurking on my desktop.

It is a very human urge to stay on top of things and communicate but with modern operating systems and unlimited RAM allowing dozens of programmes to be open at the same time it becomes a major problem when something urgent requires our undivided attention. Sure you can just open one programme and do the work needed but that desktop with all its goodies is still visible as are the clickable dock items ( or the start menu I guess for the Windows inclined) that are all screaming for our mouse to drift their way. Faced with this problem , and given my alarming lack of self-discipline, my only choice in dealing with this perplexing dilemma was to consider looking on ebay for a c. 1984 MacIntosh Classic. I remember those wonderful days of facing that 8” monochrome screen, wondering if opening the calculator application would crash my writing programme with my university essay on it, and erring on the side of caution. What to do? Happily, technology and human ingenuity have stepped in to save the day.

In one of my aimless internet jaunts I came across a blog by Kayembi and a  lovely programme he developed called Scrivener that was created by a writer for writers. It has many great features all in one place such as an outliner, a virtual corkboard to post your random thoughts while writing and even templates for everything from screenplays to comics. This is all delightful and one never knows when the urge to delve into the world of comics will suddenly happen. These many and varied benefits were not the selling point for me though. Tucked away in the list of features was something called “full screen view” . I downloaded the programme demo, made a few tweaks to my preferences, hit the “Full Screen” button and suddenly I was back in the 1980’s typing in green sans serif letters on a totally black computer screen. There was no desktop visible, no icons, no Dock nothing but the words I was typing. I must admit I fought back a few tears as I realized I could now replicate the distraction-free days of my semi-youth and even fantasize that I was back on my beloved Apple IIc with its green monochrome screen. Sure, if I want to do complicated things I can just press the escape key and go back to the main programme and all of the other things lurking on the Mac but for as long as I want I can just bask in green words on a black screen. I don’t know who this Kayembi character is but his blog is interesting (http://www.literatureandlatte.com )and his programme is a gift from heaven. I happily sent him my $39.95 and I hope he gets a couple of lattes with it.

As a mixed blessing for blog readers now that I am using Scrivener to type this entry I notice the lack of distraction has led me to write more than I normally would. Sadly, I must now exit full screen and  cut and paste the entry into iWeb and WordPress. Still, I am fascinated  that technology can help free us from itself.

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