I stand uneasily astride the past and the Brave New World envisioned by the futurist who has changed his name from F. M. Esfandiary to FM-2030.
Evidently FM-2030 adopted his new name to be more in keeping with the digital society we live in.
(Our recent story about FM-2030, by Connie Koenenn, didn’t say whether he is married or not, but if he is, I wonder how his wife likes being known as Mrs. F.M-2030. I suppose it’s not much worse than being known as Mrs. Smith.)
It is Mrs. Smith who has been trying to drag me or push me into the the Age of Transhumans, which FM-2030 describes as “a 21st Century era of new evolutionary being.”
Transhumans, Koenenn suggests, are those who take readily to such technological innovations as personal computers, mobile cellular telephones, electronic mail and telebanking.
“We live in an electronic environment,” FM-2030 says, “a fast-response environment. If you don’t avail yourself of the technology, you will find you are outdated.”
Obviously my wife is worried that I will become outdated. First she urged me to buy a computer, then she bought a modem for it, then she bought me a compact disc player, and now she has bought me a fax machine.
I resisted all the way. Now, several years into its use, I admit that the computer was a good idea. It is so much easier to write on than a typewriter. The modem was a blessing, though I didn’t even hook it up until six months after she gave it to me. The modem makes it possible for me to send my copy directly into The Times computer over my telephone, thus making it unnecessary for me (or my wife) to drive it into The Times every day.
To that degree, I am a Transhuman.
At this point, though, I consider the fax machine an extravagance and a disaster. She gave it to me for Christmas. I was dumbfounded. “What will I ever use it for?” I protested.
She said I could have The Times library send clippings to me. I pointed out that my own library, plus the daily newspaper, and all the other publications we receive, give me more information than I need. And anything else I can get over the telephone.
I saw a fax ad in the paper and was dismayed at the price. She said, “You paid that much for a dress for me.”
“Yes,” I admitted, “but you’ve already worn that dress more times than I’m ever going to use a fax machine. I don’t need a fax machine.”
She said I was being ungracious.
I don’t like being ungracious, so I asked our older son, who was an Air Force radio technician during the Vietnam War, to install it for me. He came over the other night and worked for about two hours on it. He said he had connected it to our second telephone line, which is used mainly by people calling the wrong number.
The next morning he phoned to say he was going to send me something over his fax machine, to see if mine worked. While we were talking a female voice cut in, saying the phone company was unable to complete my call. I found out that we were talking over both lines at once. I hung up and tried to call him back. I couldn’t get a dial tone. He called back. The red light by the hold button went on. I found that I could talk to him only on the hold line. Both the other lines were inoperative.
“I must have done something to the phone,” he admitted.
As I write this the phone is still inoperative and I have yet to send or receive anything on the fax machine.
I have also never used an automatic teller or a telephone credit card. I used to use the CD with earphones when I was working out on the rowing machine, but I’ve dropped both.
So here I stand, with one foot in the Age of Transhumans and one foot out.
I just pray that my wife doesn’t buy me a cellular telephone. l don’t need a cellular telephone that doesn’t work. I’ve already got a telephone that doesn’t work.
Written by Jack Smith and published by the Los Angeles Times on January 19, 1989