Adventures of Analog Man
(dedicated to James Thurber)
Who is this new — and most unappreciated — superhero? He is Analog Man! Born due to some celestial clerical error into a dystopian future of digitized algorhythms and virtual reality, he wanders through a strange landscape, trapped like a fly in amber. Since he’s stuck in this time, he has little choice but to make the best of the situation, but he always seems out of place. The radio plays classic rock song after classic rock song, without ever telling him the title or artist. That’s because most people’s radios have a digital display that shows that. Not Analog Man, though. He’s screwed.
He refuses to own a smart phone, or even a cell phone, which he calls a “self-phone.” He has a land line only. When his rotary phone became too clumsy, he upgraded to a touch tone. He has an answering machine, but never hooked it up because he leaves the phone unplugged till the evenings. He has no desire to talk to telemarketers. Years ago he tried to get his name on the National Do Not Call Registry, but failed. He was required to perform a complex task called Copy and Paste, and was unable to process it. He does use a computer, but has only the most primitive understand of its workings. Analog Man shuns Facebook and all social media. Linked In? He prefers sausage links or a links-style golf course. He’s never sent a tweet, and would rather listen to the tweeting of real birds. Video games with avatars? He’d be happier with a chess board or a pack of cards. Downloads? To where? He just finished a download in the bathroom. Then he uploaded some breakfast. No Kindle or Sony Reader for him. He likes the feel of a clothbound book in his hands, the way the page feels when he turns it (recycled paper, naturally). It’s easier on the eyes, too.
Being a superhero, naturally he has super powers. He can both read and write, and legibly, too. He can express himself clearly and concisely, and also possesses critical thinking skills, and he has the utmost faith in science. This makes him a pretty rare commodity in 21st Century America. But his real strength is his connection with the past, with history, and how it relates to the present, something too many people have forgotten. He roams cities and towns, helping people fill in necessary historical background, resulting in greater understanding. To illustrate, here’s a typical afternoon in Analog Man’s day.
Walking down a Seattle street, he comes upon a group of children clustered around a tall glass rectangular box. One of them asks, “What is this?”
“Why, that’s a phone booth, children,” says Analog Man. “It used to be that when people needed to call someone, they’d get in here, deposit some money, and make their call.”
“That’s so lame,” says a little girl, as she takes out her smart phone and texts: U should C this weird old guy with an A on his chest. Creepazoid!
Walking further along, a young hipster approaches him. “Yo, Analog Man!”
“Good day, citizen.”
“What’s that thing on your wrist, bruh?”
“It’s called a watch. It tells me what time it is.”
“Oh, man, I can get that on my iPhone. But how come it doesn’t have a digital display?”
“Look at the face. See how the numbers go around it? Mickey’s big hand is on the four, and his little hand is on the twelve. The hands go round, because I like to think of time as circular or cyclic, rather than a series of blinking lights. That’s analog, baby!”
“Whatever, dude,” says the hipster, and moves on.
A little later he approaches a large group of people pointing to a space between two parked cars. “Analog Man,” asks one, “What the heck is that?”
“Gentlemen, that’s called a parking space.” They all look at it with disbelief. None of them have ever seen one before, at least not in Seattle.
Analog Man enjoys serving the public, filling in the historical gaps in their steadily decreasing memories. But no one could have been more surprised than he to receive a call from the White House, inviting him to Washington, D.C. to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He had a sense of unreality as the President introduced him:
“Our next recipient needs no introduction. Analog Man — your unique fixation with our past makes you the perfect bridge to understanding the present. You provide us with a unique perspective, and are emblematic of millions of Americans who wonder where the hell their country went. Give us a few words.”
“Thank you, Mr. President, I am humbled. I guess what I want to say is that, well, newer isn’t always better. I have a TV with remote control. Samsung’s new Smart TV can receive your voice and other commands, so it has both a microphone and camera. Its 46-page manual cautions you that anything you might say of a personal nature will be recorded and transmitted to a third party. I think I’ll keep my RCA, thank you.” (a few laughs) Now that new cars are so computerized, anyone with a laptop can hack into them, as was illustrated recently on “60 Minutes.” There’s a lot to be said about the old fashioned stick shift. It would be nearly impossible to text a message while operating the gear shift and steering wheel. And they’re immune from carjacking, too, since none of those young folks know how to drive a stick. (applause)
The President smiled broadly, wondering what the heck this guy was talking about.
“I’m not a Luddite, really I’m not. I just love flush toilets and electricity. (more laughter) But sometimes the way we did things in the past was better, and we should go back to it. You may be too young to remember that from the 1950s to the 1970s we had a great economy, a healthy middle class, and plenty of jobs. And the rich were doing fine, thank you very much. They just weren’t ridiculously rich, because the workers whose labor made them rich in the first place were sharing in the prosperity. Which would you rather have, an economy that works for most of us, or one that works for the very few?” (raucous applause and cheering)
The President was positively beaming now.
“Here’s another good idea from the past — paper ballots. Why would we put the most precious of our commons — our vote — into the control of private companies, using easily hackable machines with proprietary software . . .”
“. . . What was so bad about taking a few days to count . . .”
“What — what is it?”
“You were daydreaming again! What’s the matter with you? You’ll be late for work.”
“And don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning on your way home.”
“You have your phone with you?”
“And is it charged up?”
“Not as charged up as you,” he muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” she said as he walked out the door. He got into the car and headed for the freeway. Boarding the flight to Geneva, he thought about the honor he’d been given, to be on the international negotiating team to bring peace to the Ukraine, thus avoiding a possible world war. He’d remind everyone that this all started when the Ukraine became independent in 1991. They adopted the old Soviet model of controlling everything from Kiev, appointing mayors and district governors. All the Eastern areas wanted was home rule, the ability to choose their own local leaders. He was sure he could make them understand.
Then it would be on to Brussels to work out the Greek bailout with their newly elected anti-austerity government. He’ll be able to show how austerity has never worked anywhere, with maps and charts, most likely saving the European Union in the process. “Wait till they get a load of Analog Man,” he said to himself, with a wry smile. And who knows? There could be a presidential run in the future. He already had a slogan — “All Our Tomorrow’s Yesterdays.” It had that campaign sound to it, sounding good and saying nothing. It just might work.