What's Bugging You?
The creepy-crawlies around — and sometimes on — us

Breaking Away
Todd Anderson keeps Paralympics cyclists rolling

Tugging at Red Sleeve
In the footsteps of Apache chief Mangas Coloradas

Tales of the City
Las Cruces Oral History group is the talk of the town

Living Through the Droughts
Lessons from a one-eyed cowboy

A Spiritual Home in Nature
Sharman Russell's new book about pantheism

A Sense of Place
Guggenheim-winning photographer David Taylor

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Editor's Note
Desert Diary

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Tim McAndrews
Keith Walden
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Southwest Gardener
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Joseph Wade
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Body, Mind & Spirit
Anger is Your Friend

Red or Green
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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    August 2008

R U w/ It?

Sit back and let Lightcap guide you through the maze of modern technology.

The world is full of people possessing more intellectual horsepower than me, and that's probably for the best. If the world depended on my keen sense of innovation for technological advances, we would all likely be communicating with tin cans and string, or reading books for entertainment, and then where would our society be? While I take little part in affecting new technology, I have no specific aversion to adapting the latest and newest science into my daily life where it makes a good fit.

It is important, however, that today's man can discriminate between valuable technological advance and stuff best left to diminish the mental capacity of others. Lucky for you, dear reader, I am here to act as your technological facilitator and guide.

One of the first problems you will encounter with new technology is trying to figure out what good it is. The enlightened consumer will do a simple benefit analysis of the item in question: Will it simplify my life? Will it make me smarter, richer or better looking or fetch me a drink on Saturday night? If you can't answer in the affirmative to any of those questions, then you had best cast a cynical eye upon the entire proposition, and move on. But in some cases, new technology can be a good thing and find an important role in your life.

Case in point: the remote control for the television. Back when I was a wee ankle-biter, there were only three channels on TV to choose from, so the idea of a device that enables changing channels without getting off the sofa seemed superfluous. If people couldn't be troubled to hoist up off the chair and turn the rotary knob themselves, especially when statistically speaking they were already watching 33 percent of the available channels, then they were just too plain lazy to begin with. Now that we have up to eleventy-billion channels to choose from, the idea of a remote is relevant. I am no mathematician, but by my count, you'd have to jump up eleventy-billion times to see what's on every channel if it weren't for the wonderful clicker. Without the remote control, we'd all either have thighs like tree trunks or we'd be stuck forever watching endless re-runs of "Cops."

In the early 1980s, when the weasels of Madison Avenue told us we all needed personal home computers, I was skeptical to the point of wondering how any electronic device could possibly replace my treasured Montgomery Ward Pong console that took eight D-cell batteries and hooked into the television with two stripped wires. Some of my friends had parents who made good money (they weren't ranchers, I suppose) and purchased some of these first proto-computers. I remember eagerly waiting while a friend turned on his new Tandy green-screen computer and engaged the cassette-tape data drive, rewinding to the program so we could play Pong. How advanced, I thought. I was thoroughly unimpressed.

In college, we spent three weeks writing programs in COBOL, a programming language that is now as dead as Sanskrit or Elfish. The goal of the assignment was to write a program that would draw a flower and make the petals spin, a sort of ironic testament to the wheel-spinning exercise of learning a soon-to-be-obsolete programming language.

I was just about done with computers, when Al Gore invented the Internet. Ah, finally, I thought — a reason to have a computer at home, so I don't have to get my pornography at the store anymore! Now I find the Internet and e-mail to be the greatest thing to happen since the professor on "Gilligan's Island" built a radio out of coconuts. With the Internet, I can get global news, look up the correct spelling of "hors d'oeuvres," order books and parts from home, or buy an antique Pong console online.

My latest technological adoption is sending text messages on the cellular telephone. "But wait," you are probably thinking, "texting is the domain of teenage girls and boys with well-developed thumb muscles who are too lazy to just call the other person. This is not a manly technology for somebody of Lightcap's particular ilk!" Point well taken, as I was about the last person in the world to get a cell phone, and the first couple of years I would turn it on only when I wanted to make a call, and then turn it off again. I might be a crusty ol' stinky dried-up conservative muleskinner, but I can see the writing on the wall, and it's executed in mysterious little acronyms and truncated words. I C U r suprisd but u should learn to txt sooner than L8tr.

I remember when the World Wide Interwebs were newfangled and people thought e-mail was dumb and would never catch on. But technology changes perceptions, and those who don't grab onto the latest stuff are liable to be left behind, and that's one place this ol' dirt pirate doesn't want to be.

My dad told me about a conversation he had with a man he met who was older than Methuselah. The old geezer asked my dad what was the greatest technology that had been introduced to mankind in the last 30 years. My dad thought about it for a long time, and even wrote notes to go back and share with the old man. Cell phones, ramjet technology, supercolliders, medical imaging advances — these were all on my dad's list. But when he shared all of this, the old man just shook his head. The greatest technological advance in the last 30 years, he said, was putting wheels on suitcases.

I suppose that the benefits of technology are in the eye of the beholder. An average everyday schmoe like me could've figured out how to put wheels on a suitcase, but I have no idea how to further the advance of subatomic-particle research. I am comforted by the fact that there are battalions of smart guys out there finding ways to make our lives better, while my sole responsibility is to be a good consumer. I think I've got that part down pat.

Henry Lightcap text messages all his frnds frm Ls Crcs.

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