tion and judge it critically; with film and television, such abstractionrnis fatal to the experience. We either have to acceptrnthe show or turn it off. As a compromise, we can dull our brainsrnwith alcohol or pills. I learned this when I found myself enjoyingrnThunderball after the third beer.rnTelevision—including televised sports—makes us all passivernand impotent spectators of a fantastic world, which littlernby little replaces the real world of everyday life. When Homerrntells his wife about the eariy years of their marriage, he is actuallyrnrecalling a Father Knows Best episode. For Homer and forrnmost of us, TV and movies are life, and our colleagues and childrenrnare real only insofar as they can absorb the energy andrnidentity of these electronic phantasms. It is the joke about thernman who reads Playboy and then kicks his wife.rnRay Bradbury saw this coming 40 years ago. In Fahrenheitrn451, Montag’s wife spends her days popping pills and watchingrnsoap operas on the three television walls of a room that has absorbedrnall their spare cash. Now, it is her dream that they canrnsave enough for a fourth wall, completing the picture andrnshutting out life completely. When Montag interrupts her favoriternshow, turns off the walls, and forces his wife and her twornfriends to listen to “Dover Beach,” one of the women bursts intorntears. “You see?” exclaims the other friend, “poetry and tears,rnpoetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings. . . . Why dornpeople want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, yourngot to tease people with stuff like that!”rnBut that is Montag’s point exactly: to face the reality of sufferingrnand evil. “Go home,” he tells her, “and think of your firstrnhusband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet andrnyour third husband blowing his brains out, go home and thinkrnof that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your childrenrnwho hate your guts.” Goethe observed more than oncernthat great art requires a great people capable of appreciatingrnAeschylus or Shakespeare: “We admire the tragedies of the ancientrnGreeks. But, to take a correct view of the case, we oughtrnrather to admire the period and the nation in which their productionrnwas possible than the individual authors.” But turnaboutrnis fair play, and one can only despise and condemn a nationrnwhose art runs the gamut from Seinfeld to Philip Roth,rnfrom MTV to Philip Glass.rnMedia metaphors were a common ploy for the half-baked ofrn20 or 30 years ago. But if one were to parrot Marshall Mc-rnCluhan’s phrase that the medium is the message, then thernalarming significance of electronic culture—of interactive televisionrnand virtual reality—is not the violence and pornographyrnbut the passivity and helplessness of people who cannot evenrnlook something up in a book or stare at a painting long enoughrnfor it to come alive. “Oh, but you don’t have to do it anymore,rnsince there are computer graphics so perfect that they canrnbring a seascape right into your living room.” No wonder surrogaternmotherhood is ail the rage: all experience these days isrnsurrogate, a manufactured substitute for the real thing.rnAnother 60’s guru, Timothy Leary, mixed media metaphorsrnwith real drugs: “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” These days,rnLeary has more or less given up on drugs and is reprogrammingrnhis mind on virtual reality, but the message is the same. We arernnot strong enough for real life—raw experience, neat whiskey,rnflesh-and-blood women. Let us have TV, vodka and diet coke,rnand virtual-reality rape. But if there are any old-fashionedrnmen and women out there, particularly those who might cherishrnthe illusion that there are still symphonies to compose andrnpoems to write, then you must do the opposite of what you arerntold every day, in school, in church, at work. No machine canrnmake your life better; it can only make you weaker and dependent;rnthere is nothing of value that can be done for you, becausernit must all be done by you. It is not love or even sex, ifrnsomeone or something else does all the work. As Lysistra oncernexplained, passive resistance spoils the diet: “A man will neverrnhave his pleasure unless he shares it with his woman.”rnNietzsche says somewhere that a lame man can mount arnhorse and ride to the top of a mountain, but when he gets tornthe top and dismounts, he still limps. All technology, hernmight have said, was invented to give the illusion of strength tornthe weak and corrupt. An unathletic accountant can buy a fastrncar; an ugly woman gets her nose fixed; the lonely guy subscribesrnto the Playboy channel. An intellectual, who used tornspend decades learning history, philosophy, foreign languages,rncan now afford to major in sociology, and when he needs arnpiece of information he has only to plug into NEXIS and,rnecco, an instant expert on what everyone else has been saying.rnEncyclopedias and reference works are only slightly better,rnand in their heyday near the end of the last century, such academicrnparaphernalia enabled the half-educated to writernlearned articles on Homeric duels or classical allusions in Tennyson.rnVictoria’s poet laureate was not amused and complainedrnbittedy against the bookworms and index-thumbersrnwho committed scholarship against literary forms they couldrnneither write nor understand.rnThere is a Taoist parable about a man hauling buckets of waterrnout of a well and pouring them onto his field. When Confuciusrncomes along and tells him of a simple deice to make thernwork easier—something like a shaduf—the peasant repliesrnthat he has heard of such a thing, but his master (that is, arnTaoist sage) had told him that it was degrading to be servant torna machine. That, at least, is how I remember the tale. Thernmoral problem of the shaduf and all similar devices is that theyrntake a complex human action and reduce it to a mechanicalrnroutine that makes the man an extension of the machine. Arntool, on the other hand, is a projection of a man’s self: a hammerrnhardens his fist; wheels give speed to his feet; a pencil turnsrnhis finger into an appendage of his eye; and the computer onrnwhich I am typing this is only a very expensi’e pencil that putsrntypists out of work.rnA real tool or weapon is a means to making something or doingrnsomething inherently noble and useful. A man is no braverrnfor possessing a sword or pistol; indeed, he may be only a bullyingrncoward with superior firepower, but combat is a naturalrnand even heroic enterprise that can ennoble the tools providedrnby technology. But the technology of war, like the technologyrnof literary composition, is perilous. Military hardwarernnow enables little men in offices to annihilate heroism andrnwipe entire communities off the map; and the first book Irnheard of being composed on a word processor was JimmyrnCarter’s memoirs. If George Bush had been forced into a judicialrncombat with Saddam Hussein, and if Jimmy Carter hadrnbeen required to write in pencil, the world would have beenrnspared much inconvenience.rnEven useful and honorable tools can become subversive atrnthe point they slip the reins of human capability. Anything yournown and use, if you cannot understand its workings, makes yournservile, and that includes computers, automobiles, and machinernpistols. But a great deal of technology has no other purposernthan to render us incompetent. A gas stove is a fine in-rnAPRIL 1994/17rnrnrn