By Bradley Ayers – Guest Columnist
Recently the Associated Press published the results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s American Life Project, which found that 15 percent of Americans reject going online and, apparently, find the Internet and associated electronic technology irrelevant.
I confess. I’m one of the 15 percent.
Given the flak and ribbing I’ve absorbed over the years from contemporaries, family members, editors and publishers, I welcomed the findings. I’d begun to think I was the only one deliberately avoiding cyberspace addiction.
My 1960s vintage Smith-Corona manual portable typewriter and the land-line phone on my desk, relics by today’s technological standards, continue to be viable instruments for communicating, relatively immune from data insecurity and the distracting inanity of the social media component of the digital pandemic.
One might wonder why a former instrument rated pilot/flight instructor, and someone who in military, CIA and DEA service used state-of -the-art electronic communications signal systems and devices would not embrace today’s technology in private life.
My reasons are pragmatic — a little personal history:
I began learning to fly with my father, a Navy veteran, in the late 1940s at South St. Paul’s Fleming Field, and the old Lake Elmo Airport. Later, as a general aviation commercial charter-bush pilot, I had numerous white-knuckle experiences with electronic instrument and communication failures. Fortunately, I had been trained to control an airplane by mechanical instruments — compass, needle, ball and airspeed — and not depend on electronics. I gained first-hand awareness of the vulnerabilities inherent in flight control instrumentation and reliability of the display in the cockpit. A primal suspicion of electronically transmitted information evolved.
It’s apparent from the news of the day there is nothing sacred or private with communications transmitted by computers and related electronic devices. Anything one transmits is perpetuated in cyberspace. What’s now called the “cloud” has been there for years, available to government agencies and other entities with the high-tech capacity to monitor and download electronic, Internet communications for better or worse, usually the latter. If I were to possess and use a computer, word processor or other digital communications device, I would not transmit anything of significance I was not prepared to verify or want the whole world to know.
Use of the Internet or related means of communicating makes one vulnerable to being set up by those entities who have reason to silence or discredit the source. It’s easy to upload incriminating evidence to a computer, hard drive or other electronic communications device.
Given my background and published accounts of activities within the military, CIA and DEA, I fall into the whistle-blower category. In my career, I have witnessed unscrupulous, ambitious government agents engage in questionable tactics when there was not enough evidence to bring a suspect in on a particular charge. That’s why I do not own a computer or associated electronic communications equipment, save a common telephone, FAX machine and an AARP emergency cell phone.
Equally important in influencing my choice to reject digital electronic communications technology is what I observe as its negative destructive sociological-cultural impact. These are a few examples of dysfunction directly related to what I consider the addiction to the cyberspace phenomena:
• The guy crossing the street mid-block — head down, texting and oblivious to traffic — walks into the side of a moving van. I go to help him. He gets up and continues texting.
• A modern young couple sitting on the deck of their lake-front home, preoccupied with laptop computers, allows their toddler to wander down to the lake and walk perilously to the end of the dock. Only my yells prevented a possible tragedy.
• There are associates I communicate with frequently who spend the better part of each day on the Internet. They are virtually lost in cyberspace during these periods and have difficulty adjusting to reality when they finally come away from the computer screen.
On a macro level, as I deal with other professionals, I find staff members seldom have direct, face-to-face contact. If there’s power outage or computer problems, and everything goes dead.
I regularly engage young people and adults who cannot do simple mathematics computations without the use of a calculator or electronic device. I encounter many who cannot write or speak a declarative sentence or compose a cohesive paragraph. Digital communications, especially the social media phenomena, have reduced linguistics and civil discourse to faddish jargon, monkey-like gibberish and babble. People have become digital-virtual zombies.
I appreciate that the Internet can be a valuable encyclopedic resource in matters of historically established, professionally generated, verifiable information on almost any subject of interest. It’s also useful as a convenient search mechanism. It is an expedient mode of written information transmittal on matters of legitimate urgency and significance, where direct contact between the parties is not essential. I see the line between conscious reality and virtual reality increasingly blurred.
Aside from my personal reasons, I’m repelled by the narcotic affect and almost robotic dependency that computers, the Internet and electronic communications devices have on American society and around the globe as a virtual addiction. I refused to be seduced. I’ll continue to communicate the old-fashioned way.
Bradley Ayers is a native of the St. Croix Valley. He has been a military officer, CIA and DEA operative, pilot and published author. His latest nonfiction book, “Zenith Secret,” is about the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and will be released by Rosedog Books this month. Ayers currently lives in a wilderness area near Frederic, Wis.