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Butting Heads with Technology

Posted: Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2012

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

I was looking up “computer butt” this morning (don’t ask), and a thought occurred to me, the same dispassionate observation I hear in my head when a plane takes off with me inside of it: “This makes no sense, but here we go.”

Suffice here to say that the top search remedies for computer butt involved poorly-edited jokey “white papers” by self-promoting Internet marketeers of the tedious “My friends think I’m so crazy!!!!!” variety; aggressively unfunny videos made by dorks without irony; and an exercise regimen called the Computer Butts Challenge and Sizzlin’ Circuits Program.

I got up for a stretch, instead, and a second cup of coffee. I stood in the office kitchenette staring out the window at a tree. I just stood there and thought, to make sure I could still do it without hurting myself.

Trees don’t have butts, I thought.

Then, into my head popped a conversation with a Davidson student I met recently on Chambers Lawn, by happy intermediary of Dodger the dog.

Adrian Fadil ’13 gave up his cell phone for Lent, I learned in our serendipitous chat that fine spring afternoon.

It struck me that five years ago, a college student without a cell phone would have been somewhat unusual. Now, it’s a newsworthy anomaly.

“What was the first thing you noticed after your initial withdrawal period?” I asked him.

Adrian paused. Then he held out his hand, an open palm where a cell phone would go.

“The first thing I noticed was I felt my soul come back into me, from this thing I’d been sending it out into,” he said, pulling his fingers back into a fist.

Within a short time of going cold turkey, Adrian, said, he found he didn’t feel as anxious about anything. A different sense of time’s passing came back to him. He enjoyed more social serendipity, e.g. this present moment on Chambers Lawn with Dodger.

Life felt more soulful.

People don’t use words like “soul” enough, we agreed. I have since looked it up, combing through two online dictionaries and one print tome to cobble together only a marginally satisfying etymology beginning with Old English sawol, proceeding back up through Dutch ziel to Gothic saiwala and finally petering out in “of uncertain origin.”

Sometimes we just don’t get to know.

So why did my morning’s musings and meanderings while looking up “computer butt” lead my train of thought to “soul”?

Well, first, tomorrow I’m leaving on a jet plane for a conference on social media in higher education. (Middle-aged academic administrators learning how to appear somewhat hip on the Internets! In Chicago!)

Second, of late I have begun to sense that, as communications technology continues to evolve, the eternal and inescapable question of soul is straining anew to make itself heard.

So, just what is that supposed to mean?

I don’t know. Makes no sense, but here we go.

Look it up.

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