Thursday, August 24, 2000

another year older

As I write this, I am only a few hours away from the big Three-Oh.

Thirty really isn't that old. I don't feel much older than I did when I was turning 29. And it only seems like a few weeks ago that I was a 10-year-old delivering my "Grit" paper route, telling all my customers that it was my birthday and wondering why I was getting such big tips.

Thirty years old. That's nearly half a human lifetime. That's how old Jesus Christ was when he began his ministry. It's nearly as old as Alexander the Great was when he died. And it's older than Peter Parker is in the "Spider-man" comic books. (But not as old as Batman. Bruce Wayne still has a few years on me, I think.)

And as my brother recently pointed out, if I lived in the world of "Logan's Run," this would be the last day of my life, since the sandmen make sure no one lives past 30. Not even people who thought "Logan's Run" was a tedious movie with effects that make "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" look good.

I don't know why, but something about round numbers makes us take notice. So I sit here, while the dials on my chronometer roll inexorably over to Three-Oh and I slide steadily toward ossification and old age, and I find myself wondering what I would do differently if I could live my life over.

First, I would have sold out sooner. I graduated from college in 1992, just at the start of the longest economic growth period in American history. I spent the next two years living below the poverty line in Haiti, where I rarely had electricity and had hot water even less frequently.
Even after I returned to the United States, I continued to work for a better world, first as a teacher and then as a community journalist. Eight years out of school, I still earn less than $30,000 a year, while friends of mine who graduated five years later are making twice that, with better benefits packages, at businesses like Lockheed Martin Co.

I should have gone for the money and saved idealism and self-fulfillment for my retirement years, like everyone else.

Secondly, I would have spent more time watching TV and surfing the Internet. Nothing is worse than listening to a group of other people talking about the previous night's episode of "Seinfeld" or "Survivor," and not having a clue what they're talking about -- especially when you still think "Gilligan's Island" is the funniest thing on TV.

In the ocean of pop culture, I'm a desert island. I don't understand a thing people talk about anymore.

The computer thing is especially galling. Companies like Yahoo! and Netscape, whose services and programs I use regularly, were founded by people my age who now are multimillionaires (see my earlier comment about selling out). I have only a beginning knowledge of HTML, and absolutely no grasp of JavaScript, although I do think that Usenet is pretty neat.

And what really gets my goat is that only three people who read that last line even remember what Usenet was.

Thirdly, I would have said "I told you so" more often, especially back in college when I frequently expressed the minority viewpoint. What's the point in being vindicated if you can't rub the other person's nose in it?

And lastly, I wish I hadn't eaten that second cheeseburger for lunch today. I could have saved the money to buy myself a Coke later in the afternoon.

If I had done these things, perhaps turning 30 wouldn't be so ominous. If I were rich, it wouldn't matter if saying "I told you so" drove away everyone I stumped at TV trivia. Rich people always have parasites and sycophants hanging about them.

And besides, as a multimillionaire I could have afforded not only the cheeseburger and Coke, but an order of fries as well.

Something to shoot for by the time I turn 40.

Tuesday, August 15, 2000

virtual immortality

I wish it hadn't become so easy to attain immortality.

Actual physical immortality is pretty hard to come by. Aside from a half-dozen people in Rhode Island, the only immortal I know of is couch potato Stuart Finnegan of Five Forks, Pa., who got immortality three years ago by eating radioactive banana-flavored Dannon yogurt and who has announced his intention of spending his life watching reruns of "Bowling for Dollars."

For those of us who don't like banana-flavored yogurt, radioactive or otherwise, there is an alternate route to immortality. This usually involves doing things your mother said not to and as a consequence dying prematurely, which, admittedly, takes away some of its charm, but at least people remember you afterward. Like for half a year, if you're lucky.

In the good old days, such feats had to change the course of human history. Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Alaric the Visigoth brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

For my part, I can't even win a game of Risk without using tactical nuclear weapons to rout my opponent's armies. If I saw mold growing on a Petri dish, I probably would try to hide it before my wife saw it and yelled at me for not doing the dishes.

As for bringing an entire civilization to the point of collapse, that is pretty much the sole province of Congress nowadays. I have come close once or twice just this past week, but  I feel guilty if I run five minutes past the limit on the parking meter. I just don't have what it takes to be an anarchist.

What I lack in audacity and skill, I have compensated for in timing. Unlike the larger-than-life villains and heroes of history, I achieved a form of immortality about 10 years ago without even trying. I didn't get any cities named after me like Alexander did, but there are a few directories on web sites and on FTP servers named "David Learn" in my honor.

I was a college student when I discovered the Internet, which in those days was limited primarily to e-mail, listservers and discussion boards called newsgroups. While my peers were developing into full-blown alcoholics, I was on the Star Trek newsgroups, where I soon made my presence known.

I wrote parodies. I wrote fan fiction. I compiled a list of references to Shakespeare within Star Trek. I even posted the first few sections of my honor's thesis on the religious themes of Star Trek. I posted so much that people I had never met knew me by name, quoted me and satirized me.

With the Internet, anyone can be assured of a place in history. When I punched my name into a search engine earlier this month, you probably can guess what I found. Parodies. Stories. Lists. Discussions of whether using the transporter killed people. Debates over whether Kirk was a better captain than Picard. Arguments over whether Lt. Data has a soul.

All of them had my name somewhere, often in the byline. It was as if someone had exhumed all the bodies in my basement and then strewn them across the stage of a twisted production of "This is Your Life."

Given the nature of the Internet, these things likely still will be available if I buy the proverbial farm, kick the proverbial bucket or otherwise end my mortal existence in the next 50 or 60 years. (Please note I said "if." I don't like radioactive yogurt of any flavor, personally, but I'm hopeful I'll find another out.)

There's only one thing I can do to stop this from being my legacy.

Anyone know any civilizations to topple?

Copyright © 2000 by David Learn. Used with permission.