The Curse of Digital Efficiency

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The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,

The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,

Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,

And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,

Molest her ancient solitary reign.

‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard,’ Thomas Gray

Gold is surging in the wake of China’s currency devaluation.

The fear is that the Middle Kingdom has been sucked into the global ‘currency wars.’

The yellow metal rose by almost $17 in New York trading yesterday…to settle at $1,125 an ounce.

Investors are turning to the perceived safety of government bonds, too.

Readers are reminded that we make no prediction about where gold is going…or when it’s going to get there. It may go up. It may go down. We own it only because we’re pretty sure it won’t go away.

Victims of technology

We are still wrestling with the complexities of new technology — or rather its effects on the economy and on ourselves.

Many readers have written to tell us what a fool we are.

They are probably right…

We could turn off our iPhone. (But what would we miss?)

We could spend a few minutes trying to understand how our car radio works, rather than just turn it down. (But who’s got a few minutes?)

And we could just use old technology, rather than the new, electronic variety, on our plumbing. Then we could go into the basement anytime we wanted, turn some valves, clang some pipes — and voilà — running water!

Yes, we are exaggerating our ordeal. We are victims of modern technology, just like everybody else. But we are not helpless.

We benefit from technology just like everyone else, too.

How else could we hear the market noise? How else could we keep in touch with so much nonsense and folderol? How else could we have access to so much misinformation?

Zipping and zooming

We drove up here to Dutchess County, New York, from New Jersey’s Newark Airport.

The speed limit was 65 mph. But everyone was going 80 mph. And so did we…zipping along in a little rental car aided by all manner of hidden electronic devices.

We did so after flying eight hours in a giant aluminium bird — an amazing contraption with electronics up the wazoo.

And the clock! Hasn’t it made it possible to accurately determine the position of a ship at sea? Hasn’t it made it possible for trains to run on time? And airplanes to land on time?

Before the mechanical clock, there was no time to be on. Just day and night…morning and evening…midday and midnight. The cool mist of dawn…the quiet memories of dusk.

As we zoomed up the highway, we wondered about the rich experiences we missed. From the airport on the outskirts of Paris…to the old suburbs of New Jersey…to the wild edges of the Catskills…and the soft shores of the Hudson River — how many trees, bushes, rivers, birds, waves, beaches, ships, clouds, children, and cows did we miss?

And in our rush to get from one place to another in the fastest time possible — with the digital clock furnishing its minutes like oxygen to a deep-sea diver — how much time passed without notice?

Without a single moment in which anything of consequence happened?

How much poetry is lost to digital efficiency?

Imagine the herd lowing at 5:43pm and winding its way over the lea at 6:14pm. Put the ploughman in a new Ford F-150; instead of plodding, he can tear down the highway at 80 mph.

Nuisances of the modern age

Last night, we had dinner on the porch of a restaurant in the nearby town of Rhinebeck. In front of us was parked an old pickup truck. In mint condition, it must have been from the early 1950s. A Studebaker.

What a beauty. Technology from 65 years ago. But what struck us was how little has changed.

A man driving a Studebaker pickup in 1950 was in a new world compared with the man coming into town a half-century earlier. In 1900, he would have had a horse, not an internal combustion engine.

But this antique Studebaker was not so different from a Ford F-150. Two headlights. Grill for the radiator. Brakes. Accelerator. Six cylinders, water-cooled.

It neither had air-conditioning nor automatic transmission. But by mid-century, most of the practical engineering problems of modern automotive technology had been worked out.

So, a man coming into town today, driving a truck right off the dealer’s lot, would recognise its key features and be able to operate the old truck without problem. (Assuming he’d learned how to drive a manual transmission.)

So much has changed, but nothing has changed. We have a lot more technology. Much of it is a nuisance.

Conclusion of Gray’s ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard’ (written without laptop):

And thou, who mindful of the unhonour’d Dead

Dost in these Notes thy artless Tale relate

By Night & lonely contemplation led

To linger in the gloomy Walks of Fate

Hark how the sacred Calm, that broods around

Bids ev’ry fierce tumultous Passion ease

In still small Accents whisp’ring from the Ground

A grateful Earnest of eternal Peace

No more with Reason & thyself at strife;

Give anxious Cares & endless Wishes room

But thro’ the cool sequester’d Vale of Life

Pursue the silent Tenour of thy Doom.


Bill Bonner,

For The Daily Reckoning, Australia

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Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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