11/04/2013 02:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Cloud Over Computing: Forster's "The Machine Stops," and Artist Smith's "I, Disconnect" Series

There'll be a high tech cloud over Silicon Valley when the International Cloud Expo is held at the Santa Clara Convention Center (Nov. 4-7, 2013). Cloud computing is the slogan du jour with services like Dropbox now claiming 50 million users.

I recently set up my own Dropbox account, getting connected to the file-share-and-sync world. A major topic that will be discussed at Cloud Expo will be that even with protective measures for data saved on remote storage systems, business users and writers/artists like yours truly, still worry if our sacred files are vulnerable. For example, Dropbox was hacked last year demonstrating that cloud-deployed services aren't immune from the tech snafus that are part and parcel of our hyper speed rush into the future.

For some reason, the theme of E.M. Forster's prescient and scary short story, The Machine Stops, creeps into mind. Penned over a hundred years ago in 1909, Forster's story is relevant to all of us tech users, especially if we ask, "Well, what if the internet/machine really does stop? What if our connection is cut off?"

Yikes! Or, maybe not?

Personally, each morning after quickly checking my digital messages at about 7 a.m., I stay disconnected by choice for the next few hours while I visit the Hollywood YMCA, get my swim and aquatics workout in, then head to one of my Los Feliz cafés where I actually write the old way, not type or text. With pen and paper, I work on my pitches and promotional work for my novel, Fire Horse.

Excerpt from Fire Horse -- Scientist One-10 went off. "As a prime example of our evolutionary cousins, Bozo the chimp has more acute eyesight than our (human) test subject. He can smell and taste better than him. And these new tests prove he's dramatically better at remembering strings of numbers. How do you like them bananas?!" The chimp finished punching some keys on his test module, and all sorts of lights and gizmos lit up and jingled-jangled. Bozo looked at his competitor, started to cackle, then mischievously peed in the direction of his human test subject...

Being disconnected for those morning hours is like bliss...until I plug back in, later in the morning. And then I'm totally connected till I fall asleep. And then I sometimes dream of electric sheep!

I even started this blog the old way, still using the rapidly diminishing art of physically writing. Think about it, apart from signing our Jane/John Doe, when do we ever write anything these days? We don't "write" cards or letters or poems. Technology takes care of it for us, thanks very much. In fact, Twitter ensures that we're losing our need or even ability to spell correctly. Our calculating software ensures we don't have to do mental arithmetic or physically balance our bank ledgers, anymore.

Quickly, what are the first ten digits of "Pi"? Erhhh! I know, right?! BTW, it's 3.141592653! Or more easily, what's twice the half of two and a half, and twice the half of that. Okay, it's a trick question. But you get my drift. We are fast losing so many of our abilities -- not only to write, spell, and do mental math. Because of our obsession with technology, Generation Y, especially, but technophiles of all ages are also losing various in-person skills including: attention span, eye contact, phone and interpersonal conversational skills and others. Why bother remembering stuff when you can put it in your digital calendar or upload it to some overhead cloud?

So what's a solution? LA-based artist, Timothy Robert Smith, who recently exhibited at Santa Monica's Copro Gallery in Bergamot Station, suggests we unplug from our technology for a bit, and tune into the present world of often forgotten sounds, tastes and sensations.


"I, Disconnect" by Timothy Robert Smith

In his visually arresting series of "I, Disconnect" paintings and street murals, Smith often uses a highly stylized robot pulling his "plug" out of a socket. In his magical "Lungo Drome" he depicts his robot sailing away across celestial skies in an archaic ship with a plug trailing...looking ahead to a different future.


"Lungo Drome" by Timothy Robert Smith

Smith, who is featured in the October issue of Poets and Artists magazine, explains, "I don't know too much about cloud computing, but 'I, Disconnect' is a metaphor for empowerment. I want viewers to feel a connection with my little robot character, who is finding a way to control its own destiny. The source of 'oppressive power' the outlet, can represent any oppressive force that one is disconnecting from. Perhaps technology itself. My robot is separating from that world, in attempts to find more like-minded people to start new DIY communities with."

Right on, brother. And write on, too!

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