by Gerry Conway
I’m a radical technologist.
By this, I mean I love tech– all tech, any tech, indiscriminately. I’ve always been intrigued and often infatuated by each new gadget that promises to bring me a taste of that ever-receding tommowland of the mind, The Future. I am the ultimate, hopeless early-adopter. (Though not as much lately, I admit, as I was in my youth.)
In the early 1970s, I owned a ridiculously expensive Digital Watch that told the time in glowing red numerals when you pushed a button on the side. I owned a Texas Instruments handheld electronic calculator when professional accountants were still using the old type-and-crank manual machines. I wrote on an IBM Selectric when the only way to buy one was to make an appointment with a corporate salesman at the IBM office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I bought a Sony Betamax video recorder the week it went on sale. I was the first person in my family and among my group of friends to use an answering machine. (It drove my mother crazy; she never quite learned how to leave an impromptu message, and for a couple of months she was afraid to call me because she didn’t want to speak to a “robot.”)
I had a TRS-1000 portable computer, an Atari 800 personal computer, a US Robotics 300 baud modem, an Osborne, a Kaypro, a dot matrix printer. I used Wordstar, I signed up for Compuserve and Prodigy (but drew the line at America Online). I played Myst-like CD-Rom games before Myst. I played Doom. I bought a Playstation One, and a Playstation Two, and a Dreamcast, a Sega Genesis, and several Nintendoes. I had a PSP. I hand built my own computers– at least six over a ten year period– until I got one of the first iMacs and Macbooks and left the PC world behind (at least partially– I usually had at least one self-built high level gaming rig, along with several Alienware portable gaming laptops). I owned a Palm Pilot, and a Windows CE smart phone. I had Direct-TV and TiVo and a house wired for sound and security with automated power switches run from my (PC) computer. I bought a laser printer, a photo scanner, a portable scanner, a desktop scanner. Gaming mice, gaming keyboards, ergonomic typing keyboards. A Rocketbook eReader. A Sony eReader.
Headphones. So many many headphones. Headphones with surround sound amplifiers, headphones with noise cancellation, headphones with molded earpieces, cam-style headphones, gaming headphones, wireless headphones for my home theater system.
The first generation iPod. Second generation iPod. iPod classic. Video iPod. The first generation iPhone. The iCube. iPhone 3, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6. The iPad. The iPad II. The iPad mini. The Nexus 7. The Nexus 10. The Kindle. The Kindle HD. The Kindle HD-9. The Kindle Paperwhite. Kindle HDX.
The Apple Watch. It’s on my wrist right now, as I type these words on my iPad Air.
Why does all this technology fascinate and entrap me? I don’t honestly know, but I have my suspicions. I think I’m a product of a particular moment in time, the convergence of my coming to conscious identity around the age of eight or nine, and the beginning of the U.S. space program.
In my storage unit I have a rusting file cabinet that contains some of my earliest writing, yellowed pages of half-finished short stories and abandoned novels, dating back to my teens. In the bottom drawer of that cabinet I keep a small stack of old magazines and a slim hardcover book. Those magazines and that book are probably the personal possessions I’ve had longest– predating my faded Boy Scout neckerchief ring, predating the keepsake book from my Catholic Confirmation ceremony, and only slightly less aged than the crumpled blue report card from my first year at Our Lady of Angels elementary school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Those magazines? Copies of “Life” and “Time” from 1961 featuring photos and articles about Alan Shepard, America’s First Man in Space, and more from 1962 promoting NASA’s plans to reach the moon by 1970, and build a moonbase by 1980, and reach Mars before the year 2000. The hardcover book, probably purchased on a school field trip to the Hayden Planetarium, featured artwork by NASA designers and engineers of the crafts that would take us into space, the habitats we would live in on the moon– the Future that was waiting for me, just a few short years away. (Though, to my eight and nine year old self, the 1970s seemed so distant, it was almost unimaginable. I did the math: by the time we had moon bases, I’d be almost 30!)
I grew up in a time and a place when The Future wasn’t threatening, when it wasn’t a depressing vision of decreasing opportunity and crushing limitations, of global climate crisis, of disappointment and disillusionment. To some extent, the dreams of childhood are always crushed by the realities of adulthood– but I think, for me, personally, and perhaps for others who came to consciousnesses in that tiny window of boundless hope and national ambition, from 1960 to 1963, the bleak realities of the late 1960s and 1970s hit us particularly hard. We were shown a vision of extraordinary optimism involving the transcendent possibilities of technology and human imagination; we were told it was only a matter of time before The Future would fulfill all our greatest fantasies; we were presented with heroes to admire, an epic quest to join. And we watched, in horror, as the dream was crushed, the heroes were forgotten, the quest was abandoned, and The Future disappeared.
I think that’s why I became obsessed with technology– with gadgets and gizmos and toys that offered a small, diminished participation in The Future I felt I’d been promised as a child. I may have been denied a moonbase by the time I was 30, but at least I could have a Sony Betamax. No manned mission to Mars– but what the hell, I’ve got an Apple Watch.
The loss of childhood dreams and illusions affects us all. I think it’s the original human tragedy– the reality behind the metaphor of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The need to recapture the lost dream of a secure and optimistic and “special” Future probably motivates much of human activity– both positive and negative. Humanists try to regain their lost sense of childhood possibilities by pursuing progressive plans to reform and perfect society, as do religious conservatives when they try to recreate an imaginary perfect past. I think the desire to regain childlike wonder is the root of most conflict in the world. But it’s also the source of creative effort– the drive to remake reality to conform to an imagined ideal.
As a writer, that drive to remake reality empowers my creativity.
As a person, and as a child of early-Sixties techno-optimism, it makes me a radical technologist.
The Apple Watch may not be The Future I imagined I was promised when I was eight years old, but until The Future comes along, it’ll just have to do.
Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.