Two sides of tools

Electronic devices are powerful, but they can also colonize your mind

Two stories in this issue shine light on the role of electronic devices in our lives. One, “Love in wartime,” by Ken Smith, is about a young Chico couple, Randy and Samantha Eitel, who had to cope with his deployment to Afghanistan just two days after she gave birth to twins. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, they stayed in touch via Skype, email, Facebook and an Afghani cell phone.

Then there’s the Binyon family, profiled in Christine LaPado-Breglia’s story, “Reclaiming precious moments.” Alec and Anna Binyon have unplugged from the Internet and relegated the TV set to the garage. The benefit, they say, is that they and their two boys spend far more time doing things—riding their bikes, reading books, hanging out together—than they would if they were looking at screens.

It’s not that hard to give up one’s electronic toys, as I learned many years ago, when I moved into a mountain cabin with no electricity. At night I read by lantern light and listened to the music of the creek. I enjoyed the peacefulness. Five years later, when I moved into town, I felt buzzed by the electrical field that surrounded me everywhere.

Nowadays, I feel colonized by media. The Internet is an amazing research tool, but it’s also a terrible time suck. Did you know that more than 85 percent of all email is spam? In my work, I spend an average of at least two hours a day sorting through email. That’s 728 hours a year, or more than 90 eight-hour workdays. Ninety!

That’s one reason why I’m retiring in three weeks and heading off to the mountains, where I intend to reclaim my brain.

Such chutzpah: I was amused to receive a press release from state Sen. Jim Nielsen headlined “Lawmakers Should Follow the Law.” This from a guy whose career is built on breaking the law by lying about his residence in order to run for office in districts other than the one he actually lives in.

He did it back in 1990, when he was running for Congress (he lost), he did it again when he represented District 2 in the state Assembly, and he’s done it once more while representing District 4 in the state Senate.

Giving a false voter registration address and voting fraudulently are both felonies. It is also against the law for a California legislator to live outside his or her district. Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alarcón and state Sen. Rod Wright, from Inglewood, face multiple criminal charges for lying about where they live. Both have been ordered to stand trial, with Wright’s court date set for July 15.

Meanwhile, Nielsen thumbs his nose at the world. The Brown administration won’t go after him, no doubt figuring that he’d just be replaced by another Republican regressive. And Tehama County DA Gregg Cohen is a big supporter, so no way he’s going to seek an indictment.

Yes, lawmakers should follow the law. That includes you, Mr. Nielsen.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.