McAdams On: The American Way

EVERYWHERE, MAN: What I am about to tell you is true, if manifestly unimaginable. Deep in the heart of the Midwest, where there will never be cellphone reception no matter what Blair Levin says, there lives a man with no computer, no Internet, no cable, no cellphone and no wireless anything except for his 25-inch cathode-ray-tube TV set that receives one channel.

And no, he is not scribbling a treatise against the U.S. government, collecting guns and ammo, or hoarding drinking water and Slim Jims. One thing he does is chide me when he doesn’t hear from me for a while.

Me: “You’d know I called if you got an answering machine like the rest of us did 30 years ago.”

Him, growling: “You know I’ll never get one of those.”

Me: “How do you avoid talking to people who call you because you’d rather someone else would call?”

Him, more like a snarl: “I say, ‘what do you want?’”

And then he busts out laughing because he thinks its funny to confuse others who adapt along with modern culture and have no way of knowing he’s not a deranged whack job. Personally, I’m not so sure, but I look around at those of us who did adapt and I’m not so sure modern culture hasn’t swan dived off the sane train.

Segways, for example. I think they speak for themselves. Traffic. Why are we still driving? I don’t get that one at all. A majority of the 1,200 people remaining in the workforce use computers at home and then drive someplace to use a computer for work. I don’t, actually, and I do miss talking to other people when I want to say something to the effect of, “I’m going to stuff this @#*&!! % computer into a wood chipper!!!”

This is the computer--or rather the eighth or ninth one--that was going to make my life easier and give me freedom theretofore unimagined. Now I am a slave to the thing as surely as if it had me on a tractor beam. I feel like Neo in Matrix when he’s in that dentist chair with the big fire hose on his cerebellum.

I bring up the computers first thing in the morning when I get up. I always have this vague intention of getting through an entire round of Vipassana beforehand so I can still turn my head when I’m 52, but it’s over there... the portal... calling to me, taunting me. “Stuff you don’t know happened. Stuff you don’t know happened.” And then I have to go find out that Ultabooks will be hot at CES, Van Halen is making a comeback, stocks are mixed, iPhones gobble data, some sporting event happened, a celebrity got drunk and married a panda, and a study by young researchers indicates memory starts failing at 45. As if that’s a bad thing. Why doesn’t someone invest in research on the best way to obliterate memories? I have a few pesky ones I’d give up, I can tell you that right now.

The 2012 campaign year will not be one of them because I have already developed a mental filter for it. Anytime I see or hear anything related to the GOP race, a sort of white noise buffers my awareness like the warm blankey of pathological denial in the face of impending apocalypse. Half the time, I’d swear The Onion is orchestrating the whole thing, but even The Onion is not that absurd.

“You’ve got to get back out here in the country,” says the man with one TV channel and wild turkeys grazing within six feet of his front door. “You’ve been in the city too long.”

“Where’s the closest place to get Panang tofu?”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

“Do they have a nail salon, yet?”

“It may be too late for you already.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. I’d be fine out there, as long as I could get broadband and the occasional hot stone massage. Does anyone do hot stone massages?”

“I want you to listen very closely. When I hang up, I want you to call 911 and tell them you may have had a stroke.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that. I was getting a text. My girlfriend Oksana got a new ringtone and she wants me to call so she can hear it. You were saying?

... Hello?

... Hello? Hm.”