SMOKE: The Writing's On The Wall

Originally published: 30 May 2005

In 1998 I went to Bloemfontein to perform in The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a few weeks, and let me tell you a secret - if you fancy a nice lungful of Swazi don't be going to Bloemfontein any time soon.

You can't get da 'erb easily in Bloem at all - it took me two weeks of interviewing bellboys up and down the Bloemfontein Waterfront before I found an oke who could organise me a couple of bankies.

I finally got my order and being the new age hippie I am (not) I decided to spread the loving and invited a few cast members into my boudoir for a toke.

We got to talking about computers, a subject foreign to most actors. Actors consider themselves far superior to ordinary mortals and white collar sell-outs and thus most claim to be technically-challenged and simply unable to work out all that nasty, icky computer stuff.

They see no need for computers in their lives and indeed many are terrified of them, as if getting one would open up further possibilities for their lives.

The last thing you need as an actor is career options - it's tough enough grinding out a daily living without having to deal with the voice of reason which suggests that maybe there's another career out there you should be pursuing instead, and actually doing something with your life.

Actors love using the excuse that they can't do anything but act, as if that's noble in itself. They'd rather muddle through and earn a few scraps than join the rest of us sell-outs who work for The Man and who just don't 'get it'.

Fair enough. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

One of the actors in our cast got arguing with me about the value of computers and the impact they would have on the future, and although he acknowledged their ultimate usefulness he said there was no way computers were ever going to dominate our way of living. I argued that they will - eventually they definitely will.

Naturally the debate got quite intense - none of us had had a drag of anything stronger than a Gauloises Plain in two weeks and you don't want to be treating Cape Town actors like that, dude.

The weed I'd acquired from the bellboy was working its mojo and the truisms and philosophies were flowing like a cheap bottle of Sedgwick's Old Brown on a wet winter's night in Newlands.

My opponent wanted to believe that there will always be a human touch to everything - he made the point that he can't read a blog on the bog, but he can sure pick up a Fair Lady and thumb through it on his way to digestive redemption and happiness.

I conceded his point but pointed out that already folks like Pick 'n Pay and Woolworths have Internet shopping, and at the time we were only a few years post-Windows 95.

I asked him to imagine the world in a hundred years and where we would be computer technology-wise - with the pace of modern technological innovation it makes sense that one day the world will be completely wired up and connected, with most business taking place on computers.

Taking another deep, deep drag I went on to boldly predict that one day most people will work from home and simply conference with their bosses and other colleagues online or via video technology. It's actually not too far a stretch of the imagination, I don't think.

Anyway - we ended in a stalemate and by way of celebration rolled another reefer. I never thought about that night again until two days ago.

It was my brother's 21st birthday party on Saturday and for some reason - I don't know how - the task of writing his birthday card fell on my shoulders.

I never write birthday cards - ever. Not for anyone. In fact - I never write any sort of card at all for any occasion, mostly because I can't bear the trite nonsense you are always forced to sprout in them when originality and inspiration fail you.

Some people have a gift for writing cards, if you'll pardon the pun - but I'm not one of them. Nobody would ever get cards from Tashi or I if she didn't write them.

But not this time. This time she worked me good and I ended up sitting in front of a card with a pen in hand, staring blankly at my blinking cursor.

And here's an odd thing - when I first started using computers I mostly used them for Word documents - writing scripts and stuff like that. But it was a painful process - I would get Blinking Cursor Syndrome and would stare at a blank page for hours, unable to compose a single decent thought in my head.

Gradually that got better and better and now a cursor is lucky if it manages to blink even once before I attack my keyboard. I find typing incredibly easy now and my thoughts flow far better when staring at a computer screen.

The easier it got the more I typed and as I sat in front of that birthday card on Saturday I realised that it had been at least five years since I'd written anything by hand. I couldn't think of a thing to say.

So I went back to my computer, opened up Edit Pad and in two seconds flat hacked out a message, then went back to transcribe it.

But I couldn't write. Well - I could write, but it was a meaningless sprawl of garbage. I used to pride myself on my neat handwriting - I was fastidious about it - but I discovered that I could no longer write like I used to.

What came out instead was an absolute mess that looked as though it had been written by a two-year old.

I was staggered. My writing looked like the writing of the biff in school who had failed a couple of times and who was 20 and still in matric and who - rumour has it - shagged his cat once.

I decided to practice first on a piece of paper and with tongue out and ragged breathing I painfully scrawled my message a few times, until it became faintly legible.

No easy task, let me tell you - I felt like a clumsy kid learning to write and struggling to come to the grips with the shape of certain letters.

I finally managed to finish the card and while injecting a mixture of peanut butter and mayonnaise into one of the veins bulging out of my neck - and just before the convulsions started - I remembered that stoned conversation back in Bloem, and wondered at it all.

I can't write anymore. That's the sad, cold fact. What's even more horrifying is that I haven't needed to write anything in the last five years.

The only time I ever hold a pen is when I'm signing something, and since my signature is a mess anyway I've never noticed the appalling degradation of my writing hand.

Is it a sign? Is the paperless office truly a viable concept? I read on the forum the other day a post by one of our US readers, who said that in America they sign for parcels using a digital tablet and stylus pen. So in the US you don't even need to write your signature anymore. As near as dammit.

They've already been experimenting for years in the US with online villages (can't remember what they're called) - communities which are set up exclusively to test a world in which every single household is connected to a central network.

School reports are delivered online, meetings with teacher happen via webcam, groceries are ordered online and signed for digitally, virtual community noticeboards notify of upcoming events and homework is submitted via email.

Such extravagances are way ahead of places like South Africa, of course, and in a country like ours that sort of connectivity and paperless world is still a long way away.

But in 100 years? 200? The world will continue to find cheaper and better ways of hooking everyone up and once everyone is connected and computer literate what need will we have for paper?

I reckon I was onto something back there in Bloemfontein. What need would you have for Fair Lady on the crapper if you had a screen built in to the wall in front of you with all manner of entertainment on it?

You could put on a Woodlands Melody theme - still shots of a brook running through a meadow, with the soothing sounds of tinkling water and birds twittering, as you gracefully unload the remains of one large Bella Pizza (with extra cheese) from the night before.

Or something.

I was genuinely shocked at how poor my writing was and we're still only one decade post-Windows 95. The handwriting skills it took me years to perfect at school have been blown away in five years of technological decadence and at that rate I'm figuring on becoming a full-on cyborg by the time I'm 50.

So I ask you - if you were toking on that slowboat right now, what would your argument be? Will we eventually achieve a state in which all writing becomes redundant? Will most people work from home one day? Is a paperless office a possible scenario? Do actors even need computers?

*Takes one more hurried drag, and passes the roach to you*

Good shit, dude. That's some good shit. Bloemies, hey? There's it, china.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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