(*-I actually don’t know what a “bot” is. But it sounds good for the purposes of this rant.)
The modern electronic age has turned me into a cat burglar, on my hands and knees, messing with wires and cords and plugs.
I like to think this is not merely a young-old chasm as everybody scrambles to keep up with new developments with cellphones and computers and all these
so-called labor-saving devices.
The good side is that I managed to slip inside the velvet rope of minimal competence. The Internet and the gadgets allow me to do things and learn things that were impossible in my first two decades in journalism.
I have older friends of sound mind who stare blankly when I say “web site” or “emails.” They missed the Last Train to Clarksville for all the little stupidities that so captivate me.
When I broke into the business, we used typewriters and paper. With the help of technology mentors at the Times like Howard Angione (“If Vecsey can learn this, anybody can”) and Charlie Competello and Walt Baranger, I learned some stuff.
In the early ‘80’s, a union electrician turned off the press-box power at the stroke of midnight and blow out my portable computer. In Barcelona! But the next day I was able to find the right tubes in a growing technology block in that grand old city.
In the early days, I crawled around musty hotel rooms, unscrewing stuff and attaching primitive wires or clips. (One reporter risked his life splicing his bulky Kaypro computer to live wires from a dripping air conditioner in his hotel room.)
Later, I had to explain to dubious hotel clerks why I needed to borrow a dedicated 800 fax line for 30 seconds to transmit an article from my laptop. Nowadays, I call help centers when the wi-fi doesn’t work in my hotel room. This is called progress.
Somehow, I manage this personal therapy web site – photos, copy, headlines, type size – after training-wheels tutorials from my patient friend Becky Collet.
Labor-saving devices? A good friend (older than me) and I compare notes about constantly updating our contacts.
In my house we have three – count ‘em, three – clickers for one TV set and one sound bar. If my finger hits the wrong button, my wife has to reprogram the whole thing.
At times I dutifully try to diagnose the problems that pop up from having, oh, just a few cable boxes around the house.
Recently, a TV went dead. We ran around for days trying to sort it out. We exchanged boxes. Then we drove a TV to a throwback reputable repair place my wife discovered half an hour east of us. Nope. TV worked. And the guy waved off a bench charge. Can you imagine?
Ultimately, the problem was a faulty gizmo in the cable coming into the house, installed by our local company.
“No way you would know,” the technician told us before the office tried to bill us $80 for fixing their faulty piece they installed.
I keep blaming that cable company for the twin blights of Carmelo Anthony and Madison Square Garden, but it seems the cable portion has been sold to some Dutch company. Somebody smart sorted out the problem; maybe it was Amsterdam or maybe it was Long Island. Either way, this is also called progress.
(*- I made a list of recent words I do not fully understand, even if I may actually use them: meme, avatar, Siri, Sirius (are they related?), bluetooth, bitcoin, millennials, hipsters, (wait, whatever became of yuppies?), apps, cookies, streaming, podcasts, spotify, plus new baseball statistics with strange initials that I totally reject. I have my limits.)
* * *
I forgot to include this stanza from Loudon Wainwright III's "Last Man on Earth:"
Everybody's got a website
But that's all Greek to me
I don't own a computer
I hate that letter "e"
I don't pack a cell phone
Or drive an SUV
Yes, I'm the last man on Earth
That's what the matter is with me
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.