Last night I hung out with friends who hadn’t heard Louis CK’s profound rant, everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy. The central character is a guy experiencing WiFi on one of the first flights to offer it. He’s online at 30,000 feet, among the first ever to watch YouTube videos while hurtling across the sky. Then the service fails. “This is bullshit,” the guy gripes. Louis CK: “Really? The world owes you something you didn’t know existed 5 minutes ago?”
Today I’m on a flight from San Francisco to Boston. I just found out that a glitchy podcatcher failed to download the podcasts I was going to listen to for the next few hours. And, oh no! This isn’t a WiFi flight! The hipster response: “This sucks.” But I don’t feel that way. I’ll listen to those episodes of the Long Now Seminars and KUOW Speakers Forum some other time. (Perhaps, amazingly, streamed on demand to my phone while I’m out hiking with the dogs.) For now, instead, I am watching the blue dot on my phone’s map creep across Lake Tahoe. Which, if I incline my head to the right and look down, is visible directly below. And I am wishing my dad could be here to experience this miracle. He would have wept tears of joy.
Gene Udell was a Navy pilot, he flew the amphibious PBY Catalina, he understood the principles of flight and navigation. But he never took any of it for granted. Whenever we were in an airport, he’d look out at the jets on the concourse and say: “I know how it all works. But I still have a hard time believing those things can fly.”
It was the same when the Internet came along. He understood, roughly, how it worked. But it constantly amazed him. To have lived long enough to have such an experience was for him a privilege and an endless source of wonder and delight.
(What’s that town down there? Oh, Elko, Nevada.)
Was it always this way? I don’t think so. We learned how to make fire a long time ago but we’re still delighted to be able to do it today. Why do the newest and most advanced technologies provoke such ingratitude?
Maybe it’s because the newest and most advanced stuff builds on more layers of supporting technologies than we want to think about. Or maybe it’s that things evolve so quickly that we habituate and crave the next jolt of novelty. For one reason or another, our feeling of wonder gives way to a feeling of entitlement.
But dad, I’m here to tell you, it’s amazing. I wish you could be here sitting next to me watching that blue dot crawl across the map on my phone’s screen, identifying what we can see below. It would have made you so happy. And I promise you this: I will never take it for granted.