The Block Island Times

Bicycling through cyberspace

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Jul 13, 2012

One of best metaphors I’ve read in a long time is the following, by the recently deceased Steve Jobs.  Jobs said, “When I think of a computer, I see it as a bicycle for the mind.”  This is one of those simple yet profound metaphors which are the best kind.  I love terse observations which get my wheels turning. That pun was absolutely intended.

    When I was a school teacher, computers turned me off; they got in the way of my job.  They were a hindrance and intrusive.  I reached a point where I would do what I referred to as “cluster bomb deletions” of my emails.  If something was important and people wanted to talk to me, they would have to find me.  It was a small school.  Now a decade later ironically enough, I own and use a computer.  I even joined Facebook!  I did this involuntarily, while trying to Google an old friend, and had to join this community to send him an email; now I’m ensconced―some former co-workers are surely scratching their heads about this.  Furthermore, my idea of Facebook in those days, and I let it be known loudly, was a student’s face was in a book, reading it.

     Computers contain and reflect the good, bad and the ugly of our culture.  When I ride my bicycle these days, I focus on the good, likewise with my computer.  As I pedal through cyberspace, I avoid the potholes of negativity, and seek smooth and enjoyable routes.  I enjoy wheeling through Facebook and taking time to see how former students are doing with their jobs.  (A couple of my former theatre students send me video clips of their work, which is very gratifying.)  Also, I stop and visit certain sites that I find interesting: book and film reviews, Bruce Springsteen videos et al,.  I liken this to stopping my bike in Newport Harbor and looking at boats (a favorite sight.)

    As I wheel through the vast cyberscape I’ll give a nod to current events and other news.  Sometimes I’ll stop and email (more irony) observations to friends.  These notes often end up as pre-writing and outlines for larger articles which I’ll peddle later.  Depending on how I feel, like bike riding, I may go on a long, slow and meandering trip.  Other times, I wheel to a specific destination if it is needed.

    One day while working in the Point Judith freight office, two guys from Cape Town South Africa came in looking for a lost book.  It was described as a “very complex Mathematics book,” by one of the guys.  We didn’t have the book. I asked the guys, “Why would you bring a ‘very complex Mathematics book’ on a boat ride to Block Island; on a perfect fall day?”  Both guys just kind smiled and shrugged.  “Is your book more complex than Quantum Mechanics,” I asked.  “Oh yes it is, much more complex,” one guy replied. Then I popped the question that opened a torrent of cyber speak.  I simply asked, “Who is smarter, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?”  “Well, neither,” one of the guys said, “Paul Allen was the smart one.”  “I always thought the nineteen year old hot shot from Harvard was the brains behind Microsoft,” I replied.  It was then that these two Math Professors from the University of Maryland via Cape Town took me to school about the science, math and marketing of Microsoft.  After being baffled by the things these two men tried to actually explain to me, I asked,”What about Steve Jobs?”  They shrugged and nodded, looked at each other and said, “Yes, he’s pretty smart too.”  I took a card from one of the professors, and told him I’d email him if the book was found.  We shook hands and they continued wandering around the docks looking for the book.

    When I think of smart people, Ford, Edison and William of Ockham (a 14th. Century philosopher) come to mind.  What human beings have accomplished in the past one hundred years, the invention of the computer being one of them, simply astounds me.  I now embrace and appreciate the computer, just as I have owning a bicycle since my dad got me my first two wheeler when I was eight years old.  Both of these inventions have served me and millions of others like me.  Now that I’m done with this nod to Steve Jobs, and observations of technical advancements, I think I’ll wheel through cyberspace for a bit, then go and ride my bicycle around Point Judith and look at good sights.

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