If This Then That, If That Then This, so – they say – computers progress, working through decisions, according to pluses and minuses, zeros and ones, but all at such an unimaginable level of speed and complexity that the surface they present appears to us as ‘awesome’, approaching the sophistication of nature.
Of course, drivers of cars are just as locked into the logic of their machines as are the users of computers. Once on the road the driver of a car is subject to all the rules and routes of fellow motorists and immediately foregoes many other options, many other ways of traveling, soon realising that the driver’s sense of ‘freedom’ – a concept that has been used in a million advertisements to sell a hundred million vehicles – is in fact a severe restriction.
Encountering a traffic jam brings the absurdity of driving home and displays its true incarceration within an economic system that long ago realised the profitable potential of each individual owning and driving their own car, burning fossil fuels and traveling on hastily built, poorly planned roads that now blight our countryside and ruin many of our cities.
Urban dwellers daily navigate a city whose air is not far from lethal, while avaricious building boomers flog off towers of rapidly poured concrete apartments using the simplistic signifier of a strapped tiny balcony. But who really wants to be indebted for life, paying away half a million pounds for the privilege of accessing your home via a lift shaft (reminiscent of the most notorious, demonised and often destroyed social housing of the post war years), and then, having eaten a conveniently pre-prepared meal, standing out on your tiny balcony, breathing in the toxic fumes from the roundabout packed with deluded motorists in slow moving sleek marques below, gazing out over the glittering city, and regretting that they still don’t look quite like the computer simulated images supplied by the estate agent when buying this apartment was first mooted. Perhaps one of the near identical persons, in one of the near identical flats above or below, has managed it, is doing it better, is doing it right?
Yov, they say (Yov says) is on a journey. Yov says writing is a journey and that Yov is writing. But is Yov writing (carrying out the act of writing)? Or is Yov WRITING (i.e. is Yov writing itself, is Yov a name for the act of writing, inscribing words on time and space, in more or less meaningful rows and columns.)
If This Then That, If That Then This. The computer’s cursor flashes, like the crook of a shepherd, guiding, encouraging, winking, taunting, leading Yov on to accomplish his weekly 750 words. Yov suspects that writing’s own grammar is more complex than the ‘If This Then That’ logic of the computer, and yet, the computer has a certain power over Yov, over us all, over everything.
Deep down (but is there any ‘deep’ is there any ‘down’) Yov knows that the cursor’s coercion is not necessary and that writing is more than computing, other than computing. Just as the ‘motorist’ doesn’t have to get into the car every day, but has the option of other modes of transport, each with its very own ‘freedoms’ and limitations; and just as the salaried employee is not forced to buy into the great casino that is the ‘housing market’ or ‘property ladder’ so the writer does not need to ‘buy into’ the prescribed possibilities of computing.
Yov still uses a fountain pen, a biro, a notebook is always stuffed in his back pocket and Yov also has plenty of lined A4 paper too. Yov even has a typewriter, though it is far less forgiving that the computer’s gentle sea of virtual whiteness, into which anything can be inscribed and erased without trace, hiding ‘a multitude of sins’ that, if made on a typewriter would have to be torn from the machine, crumpled in one hand and flung across the room into a wastebasket.
But perhaps there was also some value in being less easily forgiven? Is it healthy for Yov, using a computer, to be so easily, so effortlessly forgiven, and to, so easily and effortlessly forgive Yov’s self? What might that leniency do for and do to our philosophy, our poetry?
The computer’s wastebasket is of course as virtual as the page and thus of the words and meanings it produces. The question is, are these words depleted in their value by the changed means of their production. Will virtual philosophy or poetry help and guide us, in the way that we hope philosophy and poetry will guide us? OR is computing really just one great conflagration, a burning up of our time, our talent, and yes, of our books. DADAists, opposing the book-burning Nazis, often aimed their anger at big business and brands (BMW, Hugo Boss, Krupps etc.) who walked hand in hand towards moral armageddon in complicity with the biggest political game in town.
Today brands have become superstars fawned over by punters who will queue all night to obtain the latest tablet or phone by a leading brand, and it is in the area of communications technology that this phenomenon is demonstrated at its most extreme. Therefore, when Yov writes, Yov is writing, Yov is WRITING, but Yov is also ‘Apple‘, Yov is also ‘Microsoft Word‘, Yov is also ‘WordPress‘. Yov may thus be no more or less foolish and deluded (concerning the special ‘freedom’ Yov buys for himself in writing his 750wordsaweek) than is the motorist described above, or the salaried employee who signs the deeds of a lifetime mortgage for a concrete cage in a polluted sky.