Google Glass, the wearable computer, is the latest device for geeks who embrace the ideology of 1984 and the N.S.A.
I read a few pages of Gary Shteyngart’s very, very funny article in The New Yorker, “Confessions of a Google Glass User,” but put it aside because I am nauseated by the concept of internet-connected glasses that blink, wink, and photograph everything you see.
Shteyngart, the author of Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian comedy set in a near-future where attention is fragmented by the use of “apparati” (tiny computers), entered a Twitter contest for a chance to wear the glasses. He is no stranger to tech. He writes that he used the iPhone to research his novel.
The device became a frightening appendage to a life of already sizable anxiety….Returning to the novel five years after its completion, I had the general sense that I had allowed technology to run me over. Now I was…an occasional rather than a voracious reader, a curator of my life rather than a participant, a man who could walk through a stunning national park while looking up stunning national parks.”
Shteyngart is ahead of the curve in charting what has happened and what will happen in our virtual society. I wonder how Google Glass is working out for him. I can’t believe it is good to hook a computer up to your head! Haven’t they said cell phones can cause brain cancer?
This weekend my husband and I had a silly argument about phones. He criticized someone who came out of a restaurant checking her phone. I pointed out that he had just checked his own phone and put it away in his bike pannier.
He denied that he was checking his phone. I don’t know or care what he was doing with it. Staring down at it anyway. I don’t have a cell phone myself. I’m just glad I don’t have to field his calls anymore on our landline. (I used to promise he would call people right back, and since he seldom did, I was blamed. )
If I had a cell phone I’d check my email even more than I do. That’s why I don’t have one.
Culture isn’t dead yet. I spent the evening reading Horace.
This is an activity a woman could have enjoyed any time since Gutenberg’s invention of movable type.
I curl up on my desk, i.e., the couch, and read Horace’s Ode I.15, known as “The Prophecy of Nereus.” The cats love to read Horace. One cat bats the book gently. Another sits on the big Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary and occasionally chews the scotch tape holding together the Allyn and Greenough grammar. (“No, no,” I say.)
I drink wine (no, actually lemonade) while I read Horace, and the cats drink ice water. (They love to drink from a human’s glass.) We are very civilized.
In Ode I.15, Horace intimates in just 36 spare, brilliant lines the horrors of the Trojan War. When Paris, a prince of Troy, treacherously drags Helen, his hostess, away from Sparta on a Trojan ship, Nereus, a sea god, stops the winds and the ships and prophesies the consequences of Paris’s actions. He says, “Greece, sworn to break your nuptials and the old kingdom of Priam, will strike.”
Nereus emphasizes the extent of the destruction in the imminent Trojan War: how great will be the sweat of the men and the horses, how many the Trojan deaths.
In the third and fourth stanzas, Nereus portends the destruction of transient love, sensuality, and music. He threatens Paris twice with the word nequiqam (“in vain,” “fruitlessly”). Here is a literal translation of these stanzas, certainly not meant to be read as poetry, but just to suggest to you the differences between Latin and English (skip to the next paragraph if you like): “In vain, fierce in the protection of Venus, you will comb your lovely hair and sing songs pleasing to women and play the unwarlike cithara. In vain, hiding in the bedroom, will you avoid the heavy spears and the arrows (of Cnossian reed) and the noise and swift Ajax following. Alas, too late! You will smear your adulterous hair in the dust. ”
Here is the graceful translation of the third and fourth stanzas by David Ferry, who substitutes “What good will it do?” for nequiquam.
What good will it do to sit in your lady’s chamber,
Venus’s hero, combing your beautiful hair
And playing a tune on the cithara, of the sort
that women like? What good will it do to try,
In a palace room, to avoid the noise of battle,
The spears and arrows and Ajax in pursuit?
It won’t be long, although, alas, too late,
Before your beautiful hair gets dirty enough
Oddly, these stanzas made me think about our culture. In vain you and I sit in our lady’s or gentleman’s chamber, playing a tune on the cithara. What good will it do?
It’s all crumbling around us.
It’s not just the culture. It’s Google Glass!
So comb your hair and play your cithara while you can.
But that’s a different ode.