29 April 99

I was sidelined by an eye infection compounded by allergy and culminating in eyestrain. I'm better now, but I'm still waiting for my new glasses, and so, my eyes tire easily, especially when looking at the computer screen.

I've been reading when I could, though. Bits and pieces of old favorites. In spite of eye problems. Lost Horizon (Hilton), The Scarlet Pimpernel (Orczy), Doorways in the Sand (Zelazney), The Haunted Stars (Hamilton), Nine Gates (Essays by Hirshfield), Brush Up Your Poetry! (Macrone)... and other things: scripts, articles, reviews, websites... I've rested my eyes a lot. But never for long. I tried listening to the TV, but TV demands sight-- and don't even talk to me about that very nasty, inadequate, inaccurate, "description service" crap they offer. If I were a blind person, I'd file a federal lawsuit.

I don't know what I'd do if I lost my sight. The frustration of not being able to read printed words would be... devastating, I think. Even if I could get software that would read my computer's screen for me, I don't think I could live without visual access to books-- and I absolutely hate listening to audio books. For some reason, I can't follow a story told by a disembodied voice. I like listening to a good storyteller, but I have to see him. There's an old Chinese saying, "Let us draw closer to the fire that we can better see what we are saying." How true! Sight is very useful in conveying meaning. Remember the song Gesticulate from the musical Kismet? I know I couldn't tell a story without using my hands-- try to describe a circular stairway without drawing the spiral in the air with your hand! Go ahead. Try. See?

I have the same problem writing-- but there it's a matter of discipline, and I'm used to the exercise.

I am a creature used to the written word. In the world I grew up in, illiteracy was a terrible handicap. But the world I grew up in has changed. Now information is conveyed visually, but not necessarily with written words-- it's become more graphic-- symbols accompanied by sound bytes. Folks don't want to read anymore-- instructions now come on video tapes, or on CDs, as something to watch, instead of read. This is going to change the world...

It's going to change the people...

And it occurs to me that the visually impaired are going to have a very difficult time keeping up-- and what about the deaf? Good lord, what would it be like for Helen Keller if she were growing up today? If she were privileged, technology would give her access to the world through computers streaming gigabyes of information in braille to her fingertips. Still, she would only have words.

In the far past we relied on oral communication. But how could we know if the information was being remembered accurately? Or that it wasn't being intentionally altered?

Then we came to rely on written communication. We preferred it, among other reasons, because it provided a physical, unchanging record. But records, we learned, can be destroyed. Records can be altered...

Now, we can record sound and video easily, make a permanent and accurate record of anything. But we can also alter both. Undetectably. In fact, we can make a beautifully accurate and completely believable record, in sound and pictures, of something that never happened.

In the future, how are we going to communicate?

And, how are we going to know what's real?

I have only begun to imagine our future...

It's going to be interesting.


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