“Is that a cell phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
I had planned on calling today’s post “Coupling.” I had planned on opening with a long excerpt from a Barry Malzberg novel called “Beyond Apollo” about a mad astronaut desperately trying to get intimate with a woman before they both crash onto Venus and get eaten by imaginary animals. He dies—he imagines he dies—not knowing if he ever ‘established contact’ with the woman. Then I was going to discuss acoustic couplers—because ‘coupling’ is a euphemism for sex and also a term used about establishing contact between two computers or other entities. Finally I was going to talk about ‘coupling’ in the sense of a person becoming current, ‘coupling’ with the modern world.
But this has been a really hectic week and I never got around to writing anything for today or even jotting down an outline for what specifically I would say. (This week I did write Pyramids In Marigold Space even though a lot was going on around me.)
So I’m just going to ramble a bit about these kinds of things.
First of all, let me explain acoustic couplers since I’m guessing most people have never even heard of them, let alone worked with them and heard them in action.
An acoustic coupler is a kind of modem. Acoustic couplers were the very first way computers linked up with each other over long distances. They worked with old fashioned phones. A phone headset was physically inserted into the rubber holes of an acoustic coupler [!] and in one hole there was a speaker and in the other hole a microphone. Data from one computer was converted into screeching sound patterns that the speaker in the acoustic coupler played into the phone’s microphone. Screeching sound patterns from the phone’s speaker were picked up by the acoustic coupler’s microphone and converted into data for the computer. The whole thing operated at a speed something like 1200 baud, which means something like 1200 bits per second, which means something like 9,000 characters per minute. And, for what it’s worth, there was a time when 300 baud was standard and 1200 baud felt kind of fast.
I wrote my first novel using three or four different machines, some at home and some at work. I shuttled chapters around from machine to machine at 1200 baud and simply sending a text chapter of about 3,000 words took three or four minutes. [!]
And that was cutting edge stuff.
I thought about this kind of stuff because a few days ago I was standing around one of those omnipresent telecommunications stores and a clerk was writing up my order and activating my accounts, giving me unlimited monthly cell phone/internet service on a phone and unlimited monthly mobile broadband for my laptop. In the palm of my left hand I held the little phone that could call anyone in the world, access any internet computer in the world, and in the palm of my right hand I held the little USB modem/phone that would connect my laptop to any internet computer in the world and transmit megabytes of information in minutes.
I couldn’t believe the differences between how I used to work and how I’m working now.
And I couldn’t believe how ‘de-coupled’ I’d become from the modern world.
Back in the days of acoustic couplers, among the people I knew and worked with I was generally on the bleeding edge of technology. I was the first person I knew or worked with to have a laptop. I had three or four computers in my apartment—including two Heathkit machines I’d built myself. Those were the days before things called ‘browsers’ existed and to do what was then called ‘telecommunication’ you used what were called ‘terminal emulation’ programs. And those were pretty rough-and-ready things too. The program I used was a program someone else had written that I typed into my computer myself, compiled myself and then run on my machine to get online.
Then, over a series of years, one by one my computers died and I didn’t repair or replace them. I was satisfied with a landline phone. I left my job to take care of my sick parents. And the next thing I knew I was living in horse-and-buggy days and everyone else in the world seemed cutting-edge compared to me.
But fuck that!
I’m getting back into the high life!
I’m re-coupling with reality around me!
I’ve got a cool phone. I’ve got a cool laptop. I’ve got cool unlimited everything plans for both.
Look out Skye Sweetnam!
That is a cell phone in my pocket and I’m happy to see you!