Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
One of the Christmas presents Ol’ Robbo received from Mrs. R this year was a recent book by Bill Cosby entitled I Didn’t Ask To Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was). It currently is my go-to reading material for trips to the thunder box, because it’s that kind of book: A series of fairly short anecdotes, observations and essays that one can easily pick up and put down at will without losing track.
Now I’ve been a fan of the Cos since the early days of my misspent yoot. Not only did the Old Gentleman not mind our watching Fat Albert on Saturday mornings and in periodic early evening teevee specials, he encouraged it. I still remember the first time I was introduced to Cosby’s stand-up material. It was in 8th Grade and I was at my friend Jerry’s house. We were supposed to be working on a history project. Instead, we were ROTFLOAO (do the kids still say this, by the way?) over Roland and the Roller-Coaster and other classics. Once I started getting a little pocket money, I invested heavily in Cosby albums. I faithfully watched the Cosby Show in the 80’s and early 90’s, even after it jumped the shark. I’ve seen the man in concert a couple times since then.
In fact, the Cos was the commencement speaker at my college graduation, his eldest daughter being a classmate of mine. (I never actually met her.) When he handed me my diploma and shook my hand, he said, “All right, man!”
Having said all that, I can’t help noting my impression that whatever editorial control was exerted over the content of this book by the publishers seems pretty much confined to matters of spelling and punctuation. The Cos evidently has reached such emeritus status that he can now ramble as much as he likes and nobody is going to stop him. I should dearly love it if, when I reach advanced age myself, I am given similar deference.
But that’s not what I wanted to mention. No, the odd thing about this book that makes it blog-worthy to me is the fact that at the end of each section there appears one of those little things that looks like a very-carefully squashed bug. I still don’t even know what these things are called, but I see them more and more every day, slapped on all kinds of surfaces both permanent and temporary. This is the first time I’ve ever seen them within the pages of a book, however.
I gather that these squashy bugs are aids for some kind of electronic download protocol. You point your iWhatever at them and click and then……something happens. I’ve never had occasion to point and click myself (I don’t even know if I have a gadget that would allow me to do so), so I don’t know exactly what happens, but I suppose it’s something related to whatever is carrying the thing. (What would be the result of pointing and clicking at the bugs the Cos’s book? Would you get downloads audio versions of each chapter?)
Anyway, I don’t like these squashy bug thingies. Of course, they’re quite ugly. But to me they’re also icons of the ever-rising tide of invasive technology. Not the kind that smooths the rough corners of life or cuts down on some of the drudgery, but the kind that is constantly watching and monitoring and keeping tabs, the kind that is constantly striving to out-think or out-guess you, compiling and collating your every action the better to know what you want or think before you do.
And it isn’t just that such technology is employed to sell you things you neither want nor need, as annoying as that is. My dislike goes much deeper than that and has more to do with fundamental interests of autonomy and privacy. I know the squashy bug is just an image at the moment and remains inert until I take some positive action to activate it. But I fear that the day is not all that far off when it will be able to watch me independent of or, even more chillingly, in spite of what I want or do. You can call me a Luddite or a conspiracy nut if you like, but the more advanced information technology becomes, the more a sense of being herded I get. And, as I say, I don’t like it.