Achilles Heel of evolved intelligence
Tuesday, January 6 2004
I had my first-ever housecall in Uptown Kingston today with a photographer who was very particular about the images coming out of her inkjet printer. Before I could even think about her printer, though, I first had to install her scanner. It was an expensive Epson model and the operating system was Macintosh System X. For some reason the CD that came with the scanner didn't install any sort of TWAIN driver, so the scanning that could be accomplished had to be conducted with the lousy consumer-grade software supplied with the scanner (think an application designed for grandmothers). But I was working for a professional and she (quite reasonably) wanted to be able to scan from Adobe Photoshop. So I had to go to Epson's website to get the TWAIN drivers and then download them over an unusually slow dial-up AOL account, an experience made all the more painful by my knowledge of the fact that Road Runner was available in that neighborhood. I can't believe that in 2004 people are still using AOL for their normal everyday internet needs, but a majority continue to do so. Mind you, AOL makes sense in some cases as a free stop-gap, but not as a household utility. I wish there was a way to say this that wasn't like the way I've said so many times before. I'd love to reach out and grab a metaphor that didn't, say, involve a comparison between comfort food and its healthier, more flavorful alternative. Actually, I didn't originally intend to use that particular metaphor, but now that I've mentioned it, it brings up an important point: like fatty, sweet foods, the AOL interface is appealing to something primitive and vulnerable in the human brain. Whatever that thing is, it is the Achilles Heel of evolved intelligence. It has led our species down many dark allies and will continue to do so until we go extinct. It's a reasonable guess that every intelligence in the universe has a similar curse. It's just more evidence that if God had anything to do with our brains, it wasn't to design them.
I was in Target today hoping to score some leftover Christmas lights for an artistic illumination project, but I was too late. Where the Christmas goods had been was now a basketball-court-sized void in the store. I had better luck at P&T Surplus, where I stocked up on ethernet cables and also got myself a rectangular piece of copper. Sometimes I wonder what the guy who runs the store thinks when I plop down a pile of the assorted items I buy there. Sometimes I buy electric motors, sometimes plastic hoses, sometimes scrap metal, but mostly I buy ethernet equipment.
Today Gretchen was driving around listening to the mix-CD given to guests at Tanya's wedding. One of the songs on that CD was "These Days" by Nico, and Gretchen was so struck by it that she went on a Nico downloading spree using KaZaA Lite. I queued up a bunch of the downloads and that was pretty much all I listened to for the rest of the evening. I don't know about you, but I really like Nico's voice. It has unusually unpretentious tortured-soul quality to it. And the way she pronounces her Ss, it's as if she has a little high-hat in her mouth.
While Gretchen was still out, I watched the PBS show Nova for the first time in years. It was a program about the design and development of the rover that successfully landed on Mars the other day, and it was interesting stuff. The wackiest thing on the show was the hairstyle of one of the engineers - here was an educated man in 2002 with an enormous mullet ape-draping his back a good 24 inches. Either nobody had the decency of cluing him in, or he was such a rebel that he didn't care what people thought. Either way, you had to hand it to the guy.
Later, after Gretchen came home, I started watching the DVD of the movie Holes, a Disney adaptation of a novel Gretchen had read. It was a fun movie, although I was irritated by several incidents of transparent sexual innuendo that seemed strangely out-of-place in such a squeaky-clean (though occasionally mildly subversive) film. By mildly-subversive, I mean that the movie poked fun things that most mainstream movies treat as sacred. The most striking of these was American anti-intellectualism, the sort on display in such places as high school hallways and the Whitehouse. I'd already detected the critique of anti-intellectualism by the time our hero Stanley Yelnats found a fossil in his hole and was told that the camp warden wouldn't be interested in his discovery. [Notice that I love to provide links to smarmy Christian sites if I can find my movie review there.]
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