Friday night, the wife and I discovered that our one-year old Mitsubishi DLP suddenly died. We're getting what some home theater forums call the "blinking green light of death." The TV powers up, hangs on a black screen for brief period of time, and then konks out. Last year, about two weeks after we bought it, we already had need for a service call on a dead bulb. Now, we have another problem. I did a bit of research online, and the fear now is there's a busted capacitor inside. I rarely buy extended warranties, but thankfully I was smart enough to do so this time, given how much it cost... Unfortunately, the warranty service hot-line is closed until Monday, and at best we're looking at probably a week before we can even get someone out to look at the unit. If the several forums posts I've read this morning are any indication, we'll be without a TV for quite as it undergoes repair, but if the set is a bust, the warranty protection should get us a new set. So while the predicament is not nearly as dire as the headline indicates, like the Barenaked Ladies' "Old Apartment" song that inspired it, today has been a reflection on the past. I had some very simple, lazy goals for the weekend while the wife works on her school work. I was going to read for a bit, get caught up on the too-many backlogged TV shows on DVR, finally crack open the Alien Anthology Blu-ray box set, and play The Sims 3 for PS3 in order to do a more thorough review of it later. Instead, I've made some good headway into the latest Dennis Lehane book, Moonlight Mile, for which a review is also forthcoming (I can tell you that so far it's a great book), but not much else. Suddenly stripped of the vast majority of my technological playthings, I find myself wondering when, exactly, it came to this. When did losing the use of a handful of electronics lead to pathetic desolation?
Being a product of the 1980s, I spent at least third of my life on a fairly limited basis with technology. My parents did not hop onto the cable bandwagon until I was nearly done with high school, and I could probably thank high school for even giving me a small edge in convincing them that I needed a home PC and, later, this new thing called The Internet. Amongst my geek-savy friends, The Internet was something we spoke of with near reverence. Although we all had whatever video game consoles were out then, it was the PC that turned us into gamers. With our first computers, we stayed up until all hours of the night, skipping out on meals and sleep, to play Civilization. After discovering SimCity, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Noctropolis, the computer-for-school's-sake argument died a quiet death.
Somewhere along the line, that old computer became a vital part of existence that seemed to offer literally anything we could have wanted. E-mail and instant messaging became a vital part of life after classes ended for the day. When we finally got cable TV, I started to understand all the things I'd been missing, filling in the gaps with reruns of old TV shows the other kids had been talking about for years.
Technology, of course, marched on. Cell phones stopped being a crazy over-sized fad and turned into pocket-sized devices that were ringing endlessly in the purses of housewives touring the grocery store aisles, or attached to a man's ear as he ran on the treadmill. Text messaging arrived on the scene, frustrating parents and good drivers alike. All of sudden, VHS was extinct and DVD wasn't quite good enough anymore, and video games went HD.
And then, one day, most of all that high-tech stuff went dark. For me at least. Home theater speakers now squat on the deck of the entertainment center. Quiet, useless sentinels, they stand like grave markers over a now-useless PS3, a defunct XBox 360, and a cable box recording TV shows that will not be watched for quite some time. In the back of my head, I hear a voice saying you don't know what you have until it's gone.
Media, in all it's vast and varied forms, has become such a crucial part of our everyday life that we don't even think about it anymore. Not until it becomes an inconvenience, not until it's caused some disruption in our modern routine. We hardly think of the computer until it crashes, or the motherboard fails and it won't boot up. We can always find something on TV, or play a video game to cure our boredom, until they're taken away. It was so easy to become so reliant on all these little bits of gadgetry, even though, once upon a time, it so easy to live without them. What did I do as a kid without all these things? I went outside and played, I walked to the comic book store and bought a slew of titles to read, I wandered along the railroad tracks and creek beds with friends. I never worried about the Red Ring of Death off my XBox, or that my home-theater equipment could easily serve as a multi-piece paperweight set.
Now, a part of me disdains this dependency on the luxuries of modernity. I sometimes imagine living in an agrarian society, where technology is anathema. At least until the technology I enjoy comes back to life and all is good once more. I live in a bit of an abusive relationship with technology. I love it when it works, but when it doesn't, that's when the dark thoughts start to creep in, when I start to curse it. I may have lived a fair amount of my life without it, but I also know I will never turn my back on it, not willingly. While a part of me claims to that you don't know what you have until it's gone, another part whispers be careful what you wish for.