Palm Pilot Al

Al Gore is a man of many wardrobes. For years, he donned dark blue
suits with white shirts and power ties, while standing stiffly next to the president. Upon the advice of Naomi Wolf, "Alpha Al" switched to earth tones. When he met with Jesse Ventura, the vice president was wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots. At most summertime campaign appearances, Gore sported khaki pants and shirt-sleave cotton shirts.

Gore's attire has captured the public's imagination. In his Acceptance Speech at the Republican convention, George W. Bush said, "I am not running in borrowed clothes." Humorist Dave Barry says that one day, Gore's "wearing a suit; the next day it's cowboy boots and earth tones; the next day it's a tutu and nipple rings--you never know, with Al!" After the controversy over Gore's new earth tones, Tipper Gore remarked, "He's not wearing anything when he goes to bed!"

One constant in Gore's apparel is a Palm Pilot V, strapped to his belt. And I find this abhorrent.

Palm Pilots are all the rage. More than 5 million have been sold since they were introduced in 1996. These handheld computers can synchronize phone lists and calendars with software on a desktop computer. Palm Pilots can access the Internet. Palm software often includes currency converters, calculators, dictionaries, and recipes. Now there are even designer Palm Pilots. The Claudia Schiffer Edition Palm Vx, available in "brushed metallic aqua," includes the model's favorite software.

Among politicians, Palm Pilots are the new status symbol. With a few clicks of the Palm's pointer (sending infrared signals), reporters and staffers can exchange data bases. The leader of the Iowa House of Representatives announces the day's schedule by reading from his Palm Pilot. US Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle is a fervent Palmite. And now the Democratic National Committee lets you be "on the Go with AvantGo," a "personal digital assistant" (PDA) manufacturer: "All you need is AvantGo's
free brower software, and our special AvantGo website will be downloaded to
your PDA every time you sync with your desktop computer."

Al Gore seems to have endless faith in science and technology. He coined the term "information superhighway," and was instrumental in securing federal funding for the Internet. He wants to wire every classroom and library in the country. In his speech at the Democratic national convention, Gore noted that "there is more computer power in a Palm Pilot than in the spaceship that took Neil Armstrong to the moon."

Palm Pilots are yet another example of technology run amok. There are now more than 400 million cell phones worldwide, beeping in churches, funeral homes, and movie theatres. Many cars now come equipped with car alarms, CD/DVD players, fax machines, wireless Internet capability, and global positioning systems. High-priced health clubs offer web access on stationary bikes. Boeing will soon offer passengers live television, e-mail, and high-speed Internet access. Many junior high school students show up with cell phones, beepers, CD players, Palm Pilots, and MP3 players. More and more campers are "roughing it" with digital cameras, televisions, air conditioners, generators, washer-dryers, microwaves, and satellite dishes. Global positioning systems are being used to keep track of cows.

All this "progress" comes at a huge price. James Gleick, author of FASTER: THE ACCELERATION OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, argues that Western society suffers from "hurry sickness" and idolizes competitive, impatient people. Similarly, Yale political scientist Robert E. Lane argues in THE LOSS OF HAPPINESS IN MARKET DEMOCRACIES that there is no positive correlation between material wealth and personal happiness. Indeed, he finds extensive evidence of growing clinical depression in all advanced industrial economies. Lane contends that market-based prosperity leads to stress and depression, because it breaks the bonds of family and friendship.

Now, Al Gore is certainly not at fault for these trends. He didn't invent the DVD player, and he can't be blamed for America's seeming obsession with materialism and gadgets. But wearing a Palm Pilot seems to put the vice president on the side of hyperactive economic growth and an even speedier culture.

Say it ain't so, Al. Please put away your Palm Pilot.

Published in the UCLA DAILY BRUIN, October 10, 2000.


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