Monday, December 16, 2013

Autonomy or Dependence?

Family legend has it that sometime around 1750 one of my ancestors lived and worked as a gunsmith somewhere out on the wild frontier of Western Pennsylvania. In those days families were truly autonomous. They grew their own food; hunted and fished for their table; their clothing was made from animal skins or was home spun; they built their own houses; they made their own soap, candles, and whiskey. One of your neighbors made your firearms, knives, and plows. These people did not have much access to goods from the outside world. If a Yankee peddler happened to come through the neighborhood, it was unlikely they had much money to buy whatever it was that was that was being sold.

I like to think that my ancestor made what became known as the Kentucky Long Rifle, a beautiful graceful weapon. In competent hands the Kentucky Long rifle was deadly accurate at a range of 200 yards. A few years later, during the American Revolution, a ragged band of frontiersmen defeated a superior British professional army that controlled the high ground, because the range of the Kentucky Long Rifle greatly exceeded that of the British Brown Bess Musket. In the rocky forests that surrounded King’s Mountain the British troops could not get into formations that would allow them to overwhelm the outnumbered backwoodsmen with their musket’s superior rate of fire.

So much for family legends and American history.

Friday evening that frontiersman’s humble descendant heard a funny noise coming from his home computer. I knew the sound was just fan bearings, not a serious problem. I discovered that if I started the computer with the case in a different orientation the sound went away. I will replace the fan sooner rather than later. Everything is OK for now.

But, just for a moment, I was afraid.

Without really knowing exactly how it happened, I have grown dependent on the home computer. I get my news from my home computer. I have just about quit watching TV, so I get a lot of my entertainment from my home computer. I get more education from my home computer than from books. I manage my bank and brokerage accounts on my home computer. I pay bills on my home computer. I am even writing this blog post on my home computer.

The reason for the stab of fear? I am currently dealing with lawyers, real estate agents, and a probate court through my home computer. Losing my home computer for even a week would be a major inconvenience.

How on earth did that happen? Although I started signing out computers from work for things like graduate school classes starting around 1991, I didn’t even own a home computer until 2000.

Freedom, autonomy, independence are all hard to obtain and maintain. It requires conscious effort, inconvenience, and sometimes pain to remain free. It is easy to drift into a comfortable delusional dream that your appliances; your bank; your government; your church will take care of all your needs; until you wake up one morning to discover the power went out.

I am not suggesting that you move to forest and live like the people in the scene from Conan the Barbarian at the top of this article. In my case I think I will buy a laptop, maybe a Chromebook. We need a reliable backup. After a year of retirement it is obvious that one personal computer is not enough for two people. When I was gone to work or on the commute for 11 hours a day there was plenty of available computer time for both of us. Now, sometimes, we both want to use the computer at the same time.

They don’t call them personal computers for nothing.

I know some people who are consciously moving towards freedom. I greatly respect and admire what they are trying to accomplish, but I am not ready to move back to the farm.

As the song popular at the end of World War I put it:

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery
They'll never want to see a rake or plow
And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree'

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