Some years ago when I was lost in the world I worked as a ‘volunteer’ on a moshav in the Negev Desert where I was responsible not for picking peppers, but for planting them.
All the farmers on the moshav were fascists and terrified of frost. If the night temperature fell below freezing point, the workers were woken up and we were forced to cover the rows of peppers with black nets to prevent any of the crop being destroyed.
The farmers’ obsession became a joke to us and one morning I heard a scream from one of the neighbouring fields. All of us ran towards the sound. What had happened? Had somebody been impaled on a shower-head, somebody lost their hand in the shredder?…
… No, it was only one of my fellow-volunteers/slaves screaming that she had seen a single WEED near a pepper. Working in that godforesaken place had obviously got to her and she left the moshav that evening to head back to Europe.
The outraged and confusing feeling she had on seeing the weed was one I had when I saw a Sony Vaio at the University Cafe in Palo Alto this week. What? Not an iPad? Not a MacBook. Not even a fucking iPhone? No, a Vaio.
It was like seeing a Muslim nodding his or her head against the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem or a Christian running naked around the Kabbalah in Mecca. Within the shadow of the Google campus, an American not using an Apple device? I couldn’t help but point and stare. It’s.. it’s… not… Apple. Oh my God!
Fortunately, nobody took me away to Europe and an Italian colleague did usher me away and whisper to me that he also used a Vaio, but it only underscored how (just about) everybody I met in San Francisco this week were not only Appled to the max, but seemed to have their heads down in their iPhones looking at Google Maps. It was like watching Blade Runner without the rain, Minority Report without the talking ads.
How times change. Once there was a time when I was in San Francisco looking for the City Lights bookshop or having a nostalgic beer in Vesuvio’s feeling the ghosts of Jack London and Jack Kerouac.
There was no SatNav and Google Maps, it was when people got lost. It was fun getting lost, you could ask somebody the way and be able to interact with somebody, you could even feel great for pointing out the right direction, and you might even use your brain to get there, not rely on a machine.
So where Silicon Valley treads, others will follow. I fear that our gradual softening up by the robots is gathering pace here. The machine is here, the machine is eating us up, the machine is Apple, the machine is watching Vaio-users, the machine is Apple, LOOK THERE’S A WEED, THERE’S A WEED, THERE’S A WEED NEAR THE PEPPERS!!!!!!