Friday, March 25, 2011

In front of what?

Friends see that I follow current affairs on the web (including events in my native land). Then they hear me raving on about my blogging, my Internet-assisted genealogical research, my use of word processing for creative writing and, now, my intense involvement with the complex domain of Macintosh and iPad programming. Inevitably, they pop the obvious question: How many hours a day do you spend in front of your computer screen? This question annoys me, because I can see their brains ticking over and getting ready to subtract my answer from 24, obtaining X, enabling them to conclude: This poor guy only lives in the real world for X short hours a day!

Their question is indeed poorly worded. No doubt poorly conceived. A more significant question would be: How many hours a day do you spend in front of your brain, your reflexions, your intelligence, your background, your culture, your identity, your ambitions, your creative activities, your intellectual projects, your passions, your destiny, etc…? And my answer would be something in the vicinity of 17 to 18. In other words, I have little spare time to waste, to be bored.

Back in Paris, when I worked as a technical writer in the high-powered ILOG software company (now a part of IBM), my fellow-workers used to laugh about a cleaning lady who, before dusting down a computer screen, would always say to the user, politely: "Excuse me, give me half a minute to clean your telly." Her use of the term "telly" gave us the impression that she looked upon our group of ILOG software engineers (who often worked late into the evening) as a joyous throng of guys and gals who seemed to be paid to spend hours on end watching mysterious TV shows, in languages that they alone could comprehend. Well, she wasn't really wrong. Except that purists would have pointed out that our screens didn't capture and display the heavenly signals designated as TV, but something a little different, emanating from within our "tellies". We were watching and appreciating shows that we ourselves had just produced. But none of us had the courage (nor the desire, for that matter) to attempt to explain that situation to the cleaning lady.

In a similar sense, I wonder if there's any point in trying to explain to friends, today, that the vast time I seem to spend sitting in front of a computer screen is not simply "time spent sitting in front of a computer screen". It's much more than that. As I suggested earlier on, I'm seated, for much of the time, in front of… myself! Introspection, maybe, or even narcissism. I would speak rather of computer-assisted cogitations or meditation. Much more, in any case, than dumb screen-watching.

To my mind, in terms of wasting time, there are worse things than a computer screen to be seated in front of. For example, the steering wheel of an automobile. Or fellow passengers in public transport (trains, buses, trams, etc). Sitting in front of a TV screen in certain English-speaking societies (which I hardly need to name), or their media in general, can be a most effective way of plowing mindlessly through time. Personally, I would not willingly swap the least amount of computer screen-watching for, say, time spent waiting to be served in a dull restaurant offering poor-quality food. But the deal would be off, of course, if I happened to be dining on a warm evening, say, in Arles with a dear Provençal friend [display]. It's not so much a question of where you're sitting, but rather a matter of the quality of the entity in front of which you're seated!

I don't deny that spending hours in front of a computer screen might, in certain circumstances, be thought of as a waste of time. (But who am I to judge?) Maybe that's why I detest all kinds of games (including bridge evenings with suburban neighbors… who don't exist here, fortunately, at Choranche). On my Macintosh, there has never been anything that looks remotely like a video game. I hate all that fake stuff. On the other hand, it's fact that I can "waste" precious time gazing up at the Cournouze, or down into the eyes of my dogs. As I said, it's not so much where you decide to sit down, but rather what you want to watch. And I would be a liar if I were to suggest that I don't like spending a lot of time watching what gives on the screen of my faithful Macintosh. I hasten to add that I'm also very fond of my splendid TV screen, and vaguely concerned (when it's absolutely necessary, which is rare) by the relatively insipid screens of my iPad and iPhone.

1 comment:

  1. Heavens! It never occurred to me that anyone could think that my time in front of my wonderful Mac was other than productive!