My favorite columnist
By Doug Thompson
My favorite living columnist is not some political guru, foreign policy expert or historian.
My favorite columnist since Mike Royko died, by far, is Tom Long. He writes “The Luddite” column for “Wired” and is at www.wired.com/commentary/theluddite.
He doesn’t trust technology. He can back it up, too.
“I’m not, strictly speaking, anti-technology. I just don’t treat it like a freaking religion,” as he wrote recently.
The first column of Long’s I ever read began: “I hope they do steal his damned car. That way I’ll never have to hear that freakin’ alarm again.” I’ve been hooked ever since. He published that column in October 2005. I still can’t read it without laughing.
Long is copy-editing chief for Wired. He’d massacre my copy for its sloppiness and errors. He seeks to impose precision and thrift upon techie writing. Techie writing reminds me of Frank Zappa’s definition of rock journalism: People who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read. However, techie writing is more upscale, mainly because there’s more money involved in the latest gadget than there ever was in vinyl 45s.
Long is a wordsmith who’s surrounded by people who say “wow” all the time and babble technospeak. He does not share their love of the latest new thing.
One column tells about a long, boring editorial board meeting debating the future of downloaded music. One member was particularly passionate about it, arguing that great stakes were involved. In passing, this advocate mentioned how many songs he’d downloaded, several tens of thousands.
Long, startled out of his repose, said “How many?” practically shouting. He proceeded to show by calculation that it would take decades just to listen to all those songs once, back to back, never sleeping.
His point: This guy didn’t love music. He loved bragging to his techie friends about which songs he had in his library that they didn’t. He spent more time downloading than listening.
Long’s columns remind anyone who reads them that all the benefits of technology come from selection. Select what’s good and disregard the merely novel. Be rigorous about it to the point of distrust. The sooner you get through that process, the better off you’ll be. And never be more fascinated with machines than with people. Never become unapproachable, talking more on your cell phone than on the person standing next to you.
Technology is Narcissus’ pool. We can spend all our time and devotion staring into the reflection we make. Any parent who’s shared a long car ride with a youngster who keeps checking her cell phone for messages from her own little crowd understands this. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever written will never be read by more than a few dozen people who play one of the same computer games I do.
“I’m a Luddite who nevertheless uses technology (I mean, I’m not Amish, for crying out loud),” Long once wrote. “The romantic in me might prefer the idea of riding Old Paint into town but I can appreciate the efficiency of a car, especially one with a five-speed gearbox. What I’ll be doing in this column is asking you technophiles to downshift a bit, to relax. Who gives a damn if you’re working on a Mac or a PC, really? It’s just a bloody box.”
Here’s another favorite: “Maybe we could all live 20 years longer if we obsessed over carbohydrates, hung out in oxygen bars and exercised to the point of exhaustion. The question then is, with life reduced to such a repetitive, crushing bore, why would you want to stick around another two decades anyway? To do what? Eat more sprouts?
“Give me 70 years full of good food, good drink and good friends. You go to the gym; I’ll go to the steakhouse with that little redhead in accounting who likes her good times. You’ll live longer, but I’ll have more fun.”
He’s right. Think those people you chat, instant message and blog with on the Internet are friends? If you died today, how many would come to your funeral?
Hang up and live.
Local bars, restaurants “thin” in summer, tax revenues are down, but fall and football are coming. The causal observer of the passing scene in Fayetteville and all of Northwest Arkansas can notice the summer “blues” down on Dickson Street and in area restaurants. There’s lots of elbow room at the bars. Many choice tables at area eatin’ joints are available and there are parking spots close to where you want to go. Even the “new folk” up in powerful Benton County with the expanding dining and entertainment district up there in the “powder dry” county – have seen a slight decline this summer. The summer of $3 a gallon gasoline has kept a lot of travelers close to home and it’s made eating out less of an option—one that folks have to consider every time they stop at the pump on their way to eat out. Yes with the addition of the UA student population and the spate of fall football games—along with an enthusiastic new basketball coach-everyone is hoping that it will bring out a strong fall for bars,clubs, restaurants and yes, even retailers in Fayetteville and Washington County this fall. Just wait and hang on folks. Fall is coming. And it won’t come soon enough for some folks.
Rumors are flying that a local man with strong ties to “green” issues may be in line for a federal appointment dealing with sustainable energy. All the kinks in the appointment with a couple of the state’s congressional delegation are in the early stages. The number of awards of recent will only help this gentleman get the federal seat. Stay tuned.
GOLF CART TAXI
It didn’t take the folks at Pinnacle Promenade long to get the message: There is a need for a shuttle service for those rich and senior shoppers. So now a new fangled, bright yellow taxi coach (a sooped-up golf cart) is ferrying shoppers from the parking lot to the stores. Rumor has it that if you buy lots and spread the wealth around the store will summon the jitney for your pleasure back to your automobile.
HOT DAWGS…only in Eureka Springs
A new celebrity! Oscar Pryor Wiener, a dashing dachshund will return home as a winner from the 14th annual Wiener Dog national races. A parade in his honor will be 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. If you like dogs and the quirky Eureka Springs atmosphere, this event is for you. The homecoming “Wiener Walk” will feature canine pals parading down Spring Street with their owners and friends, local personalities and other hot-dogging citizens, music and fun. Proceeds from chili-dog sales will be donated to Main Stage Community Center.
There seems to have been some real ??? in the KNWA broadcasts of late. One morning their early news show was blacked out and several times at night the digital signal comes over scrambled. It’s the old Big Chief Test Pattern blues.
Comet Cleaners is set to occupy the first of many empty spaces in the strip mall out on Hwy 62 near Lowe’s. The cleaners, however, won’t open for another couple of months. The finished shopping center is largely vacant and awaiting tenants. Yikes.
The old Arkansas Outfitters building on School Street, behind the Dickson Street Bookstore, is showing signs of activity. Just what
kind of activity is a mystery. It’s a tiny venue. Let’s hope occupant Number two lasts longer than the previous tenet.