How many of you have spent an afternoon floating down a river? If you haven’t made this sunlit trip, I highly recommend it.
My experience with this activity was a lot of fun. It was a social activity with family, it was on a lovely sunny day, it was in a river that was quite low (so I never feared that this foray into the rapids and sluices would be my last) and it was easy to just enjoy. We rode a rickety, clattering bus, loaded with people and gear, to the launching point well upstream of our parking spot. We dragged or carried our kayaks down the ramp to the water, a wonderful spot in the shade of a bridge overpass. We slogged into shallow water, trying our best to hold boat and booze and hats and other gear, and then, slipping and teetering and laughing all the way, we somehow ended up floating, silently slipping into the already moving clear current.
The next few hours were really, really nice. Sun dappled water. Greenery everywhere. Something new around every bend. Places that were so shallow that the more weighty of us had to portage to get to the next cool, deep pool. Cows. Yeah, cows. That part was really cool. One straight run terminated in a very small but exciting rapids that we all had to negotiate to move on down the river. There was no thinking about it. In true Master Yoda fashion, there was no try, only do. We were never in any danger, but the rapid acceleration and feeling of being shot out of a small water cannon made the pulse rise. The other hysterical part of shooting those rapids was the fact that there was a campsite of Deliverence-esque people on the other side. I kept listening for banjo music and watching the treeline high above us for the glint of a rifle barrel.
Navigating the increasingly harrowing river of digital technology is something that most, but not all, of us have a good deal of experience with.
I think with many people who love what they love and cannot see any possible way to love new things that do not have a cathode ray tube, belt drive or vacuum tube, it is a daunting proposition indeed. Those folks,and you may be among them, are basically swimming up stream. They are trying, half heartedly, to put in well downstream, paddle like mad to get back upstream to the place they parked their Edsels, but it is a lost cause they know it. The current, even at its shallowest, shadiest, most placid point, is simply too strong to fight for very long. The digital river, as all rivers, flows inexorably to the sea.
We now have at our fingertips hundreds of thousands of books, magazines and newspapers, blogs like this one, transcripts of speeches, and a multitude of other digitized print material. We can access, by buying or streaming, millions of songs and performances of all kinds. We can watch television shows from the time there were television shows, plus thousands of Oscar winning movies and serials and documentaries. We can listen to audiobooks and attend classes at the finest colleges and universities, all by clicking, tapping and swiping.
It is like trying to drink from a firehose. If one insists on fighting it, taking it all in, missing nothing, one will surely drown. You can try to swim upstream in the digital river, but the 1s and 0s will swirl around you, eddying and deepening until they fill your lungs and you gasp for air for the last time.
Now, all is not lost, and a watery grave of code does not have to be the end of you.
Just like preparing to launch oneself into a river to enjoy the afternoon sun, one can prepare to enter the digital world and really enjoy the journey.
First, wear good shoes. Just like the sharp rocks that lurk just under the inviting water, there are pitfalls in the digital space that will snag you if you let them. Educate yourself. Read. Learn. Know what is on the seedy bottom of the twenty first century stream. Viruses, phishing, identity theft, and scams of all types wait on the bottom like whiskered catfish. There are bottom feeders everywhere in this new cyber world.
Put in at a safe place. You wouldn’t start your journey down a river by launching yourself off the highest falls you could find. Start in the shallows. Read a digital book. Buy a song or two. Download a movie or a television show. Get the hang of how it’s done.
Slowly explore deeper waters. Learn how to access whole seasons of your favorite shows. Find out how to borrow digital books instead of buying them. Decide if buying music is still for you, or if a subscription streaming service better suits your needs.
Be excited, carefully so, about what is around the next bend. Once you get the hang of this music and book and movie thing, you’re going to see augmented reality, virtual reality, and self driving cars in the next decade. Exciting? Heck yes! Scary? Heck yes!
Explore new things that make your pulse quicken. Learn how to take a virtual course in Chinese culture, how to be a part of a storm chasing team, or how to cook Indian food. It’s all out there, and so much more. It’s easy to find and even easier to take advantage of. You just simply have to put your oar in the water and paddle.
My advice to those of you who are still put off by this brave new world, frightened that things are not what they used to be and appear to never be going back?
You have all the time in the world. The river keeps moving, but that is the scary AND the reassuring part. It should keep moving for a very long time to come.
Don’t swim upstream.
Get in, pop a cold one, raise your face to the sun, and float.
Don’t forget the sunscreen.