Kage Baker was a great admirer of labor-saving devices. They were a fervent goal of domestic society when we were growing up, the pinnacle of every housewife’s dreams: machines to free her from the tedious labour of housework.
While we didn’t grow up in anything remotely resembling a “normal” household, no woman in mid-20th century was going to turn up her nose at modern conveniences. Especially not one with children – Momma had a profound and emotional relationship with devices like her washing machine, her refrigerator, and her electric vacuum cleaner. (Hey, I remember carpet sweepers and brooms – I still marvel at the ease with which my Dyson sucks up dirt.) Even though the first washer I recall had an open tub and a wringer on top through which you had to hand-feed the wet clothes instead of a spin cycle – the thing had wheels and ran on electricity, and my mother adored it.
So, Kage was all in favour of better living through machinery; she was just picky about what constituted a necessity. She actually did not own a television set for the first several years after she left home: but she spent freely on audio equipment, because music mattered. It was computers and hand-held electronics that totally won Kage over, though – big machines, like microwaves and Cuisinarts, were just not as interesting as mobile phones and laptop computers and DVD players.
Kage had more computing power sitting on her oak roll-top desk than the astronauts had in the Shuttle; that enthralled her. She loved her Buke, a computer the size of a paperback – had she lived to see my Kindle and my smart phone, she’d have been fascinated. She saw the first models in friends’ hands and was just waiting for all the bugs to be worked out – but her time ran out before she had a chance to try the newest techno toys.
She just learned about Twitter a couple of years before she died. It was explained to us while careering through Las Vegas on a night-time tour of the Strip, by a very electronic-savvy friend (Hi, Becky!) who was intrigued by the brevity and ease of “Tweets”. Kage was not impressed, though she was amused; what could you really say, she protested, in 144 characters? Texting was already permanently changing the way English was written and read – Kage, old-fashioned wordsmith that she was, didn’t see how giving those puerile abbreviations more scope would enrich the human condition.
And, of course, as it has turned out, Twitter may be playing its largest role in the dissemination of rumour and gossip. But it’s also being used to run revolutions and make knowledge of all sorts free to people of all sorts. Those are mighty and noble changes, and things no one really saw coming; not even when the world watched Tianamen Square unfold though FAX machines. And FAX machines themselves are all but obsolete now, over run and outdistanced by email and Skype and Facetime and Twitter.
That would really be zooing Kage. It’s the noosphere happening, she remarked in amazement, when she first ventured into a chat room that merely spanned the North American continent. And it was, and it is even more so now. And if we are, indeed, using it to send one another knock-knock jokes and homemade gynecological exams, we are also using it to educate and liberate one another. There’s no human activity without its sordid side, and Kage knew that very well. She wouldn’t be surprised that the advance of knowledge is speeding round the globe on the wings of Nigerian scams and Justin Bieber’s jailhouse photos.
But she might be surprised that I myself have now branched out onto Twitter. Of all the new social media that were cropping up near the end of her life, that one struck her as the silliest. Possibly the idiotic name. But it can’t be denied that it is an astonishing tool for getting attention; it’s the biggest blank wall ever, and the paint cans to write on it are free. If, like me, you have discovered the satisfaction of shouting into the void – you can’t get interrupted and there are other people shouting back! – Twitter is another cliff from which to bellow.
And I have 8 followers! That is 1 billionth of the global population! The most recent came in in the middle of the night, because it turned out to be someone from England (!!!), marvellously yclept Yaffingale, kindly letting me know the link to this blog worked. I was thrilled. And it taught me not to leave my phone on vibrate while it was in the china Jubilee mug on my desk, because it rang and vibrated like hell and woke the parrot up. But it was a Tweet from England!
So there you are. And there I am, too. I have a modest plan: I’ll use Twitter to advise when each of these blog posts is up, and I will send ONE (**1**) daily Tweet to mark my place. The Wit of Kage Baker, or Static From The Void, or To The Voices In My Head – some painfully clever crap like that. Just a way to bark at the sun rising, I guess.
How do you get around a limit of 144 characters? Use ’em to send people to where your larger efforts lurk, that’s how.
Kage would understand that trick.