THROUGH THE FIRE: What the Computer Hath Wrought

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YAMATO, SHARON-colorBy Sharon Yamato
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On the day before Thanksgiving, I was busily reading newspaper ads to find out where I could find the biggest and best Black Friday deals. I had been shopping around for a new mini notebook computer, and when I saw that some retail outlets were selling them for $199, I almost braved the crowds to get one—that is, until I heard reports of consumer vultures circling stores as early as five in the morning rushing out to Wal Mart and Frye’s. I later found out that the biggest sales of the day were in computers and big-screen TVs.
Although I would not consider myself a computer geek by any stretch of the imagination, it’s finally happened: I am completely and totally dependent on the computer. In fact, much as I hate to admit it, the reason I’m looking for a mini computer is so that when I’m in my house, I don’t have to run all the way downstairs to my office desktop to look up a phone number on my Palm Desktop or find a recipe on epicurious.com. Everything I need in life seems to be available on the net, and what’s more, it’s fingertip close.
Since I work at home, most hours of the day you will find me glued to my desktop. My email window is open at all times so that the minute my friends email me, I can get back to them within seconds. And the more dependent you become on the computer, the faster it has to be. I recently upgraded my internet wireless account so that I could get what is probably a nanosecond faster on my high speed connection. I like to think that my time is worth money, but I don’t know if the seconds I save are really worth as much as Time Warner charges.
Even though I’m ancient enough to remember what it was like typing on a manual typewriter, I still can’t imagine life without a computer. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t easy teaching this old dog this new trick. In the early days, I was extremely resistant. When computers first came on the scene, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Why would you want to communicate with someone with a machine that seemed so impersonal? I happened to like the telephone. The days when they talked about the “information superhighway,” I was having trouble figuring out what a hard drive was. Oh yes, there was the time it crashed, and I lost everything. I wanted to kill my computer and then myself.
All this gets me to my next point: what the computer is doing to the state of print media. Just last week, yet more longtime publications have become extinct. It was hard for me when Gourmet Magazine and Kirkus Reviews (just two of the ones I peruse from time to time) folded, but I was really saddened to learn of the demise of the Hokubei Mainichi. In my distress, I emailed my friend Brian Niiya in Honolulu, and was disturbed to hear that the Hawaii Herald was undergoing similar circulation problems. Since I rely on the Rafu for all my JA news (and I happen to like writing this column), I would hate to see it go under. Despite my love of computers, I have a vested interest in seeing to it that newspapers, especially this one, keep going.
I have to admit that I am my own worst enemy. Even I have turned to online news for my daily fix. A few years ago, a friend told me she had canceled her subscription to the LA Times because she distrusted the mainstream media and now relies on alternative online sites like Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo to get her news. So I started to do the same and realized she was right. They did in-depth reporting and printed stories that you don’t see in the mainstream media.
I was also happy when the Rafu expanded its online presence. I’m not sure how this affects their operation and revenue, but it’s wonderful to know that it now has a worldwide web presence. For example, I was completely amazed when a friend of mine in New York somehow found a column I wrote about her (I was too shy to send it to her myself), thanks to the wonder of Google. To think that households in places as far away as New York (not to mention Japan) can now read about what’s happening in the Nikkei community in LA.
With the advent of electronics, even books are now available online. Although I resisted at first (what could be worse than reading a book on a little machine?), after hearing friends talk about the joys of the Kindle, I am actually considering getting one for my mate for Christmas (hopefully, he isn’t reading this column). Since he has been traveling a lot, I thought it would be nice for him to have a new book, not to mention the LA Times, at his fingertips and without the extra weight that a big book can sometimes carry.
For those of us who still love the grittiness of newsprint and the joy of turning the page, these newfangled devices may be the beginning of the end of news and information the way we know it. I only hope that this new technology doesn’t result in the complete destruction of newspaper organizations, magazine outlets, book publishers and libraries.
With that thought, I am going to forego buying that Kindle, check out a book at the library, and renew my subscription to the Rafu until I’m sure we’re not going to do real damage to those things I hold dear.

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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