A Call for Digital Temperance...

Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.

A Call for Digital Temperance...

        "A mind is a terrible thing to digitize!"
        So said the portly, bald-headed man in front of one of the
electronics stores on West Thirty-Second Street.
        "Our children are being seduced by the drug of mental
        You may choose to regard it as evidence of his own mental
agility: he was wearing a heavy black overcoat on one of the hottest
days of July. Also a sandwich board. On the front it read 'Stop The
Calculator Pushers!'. On the back, 'Support The Digital Temperance
League', with a phone number.
        I pride myself on my ability to ask that concise, meaty
question that will unfold the entire story: I said, "'Digital
Temperance League'?"
        His voice had that quality I think of as 'dogmatic
evangelical'; that teetering-on-the-edge-of-violence tone that your
mother used to use when she =really= wanted you to clean your room.
"The last fortress," he evangelized, "between your child and perpetual
        "I don't have a child..."
        "Well then, for the children of your friends and relatives!
The Digital Temperance League protects the minds of children
        Another incisive question: "Protects them from what?"
        "From the Calculator Pushers!," he seethed. "From that vile
seductress, the home computer! From the agonized writhing of software
        "'Calculator Pushers'...?"
        He scowled. "The Devil's own agents! The temptresses of the
silicon high! They use low prices and rebates to tease your child into
that first thrill! Then, when he's hooked, he's their slave forever!"

        "...are you serious?"
        "May God strike me dead as I stand here," he sermonized,
"=nothing= could be more serious!" His expression spoke of angry
righteousness. "Look at this!" He pointed to one of the ads pasted in
the store window. "A thirty dollar calculator on sale for seventeen
dollars! And if you mail in a coupon, you get five dollars back! The
price of permanent addiction is only fourteen dollars!"
        I said: "Twelve dollars."
        "Twelve dollars. Seventeen minus five is twelve."
        "Oh," he said. "Well, you know what I meant!"
        "Perhaps better than you," I muttered.
        "How's that?"
        "Never mind... That's really something, isn't it? That much
computational power for only twelve dollars?"
        "The seeds of destruction! The first chapter of the book of
eternal perdition!"
        "...a calculator?"
        "A calculator! Calculators are destroying the brains of our
        Isn't this where I came in? I never know when to walk away.
"...how so?"
        "By making math too easy for them! The Digital Temperance
League has statistics that prove that calculator addiction is an
immense and growing scourge! Thirteen percent of all schoolchildren
cannot do arithmetic without them! And another forty-one percent
require intense remediation to make them mathematically literate!
That's sixty-four percent!"
        I said: "Fifty-four."
        "Thirteen plus forty-one is fifty-four, not sixty-four."
        "Oh," he said. "Well, you know what I mean!"
        I murmured, "Do you...?"
        "What's that?"
        "Never mind."
        "Anyway," he continued, "more than half of our children cannot
do math without calculators!"
        "Hmmm... Your assumption is that, absent calculators, they'd
do better... Moreover, what about the other half? Don't calculators
permit them to do more math better and faster?"
        "At the price of silicon dependence!"
        "But, still," I said, "they =are= able to go further faster by
having a mule to do the mule labor, right?"
        "At the price of permanent bondage to Calculator Pushers!"
        "But they =do= get more math done in less time, don't they?"
        "By selling their souls to the Devil! By spending their lives
in a frenzied silicon haze!"
        I chuckled softly, to myself. "Learning more, better and
faster is the kind of frenzy I'd like to see in more students..."
        "You're one of them!," he shrieked.
        "...I guess so. I love my calculator; I use it all the time."

        "Oh, you poor misbegotten soul! Praise the Lord that you found
Digital Temperance in time! Our Outpatient Clinic for the Digitally
Dependent will have you cured in no time!"
        I smiled. "I have no desire to be 'cured'."
        He moaned. "Spare me, Jesus! A hardened addict! A prideful
sinner! A slave of the digital Devil!"
        A nonsense addict, maybe. A slave to the thrill of moronic
reasoning... I said: "Those are pretty nice shoes you're wearing... Do
you consider yourself a slave to the shoe industry?"
        No answer, just a confused look.
        "Why are you wearing those shoes?," I asked.
        "Are you kidding?," he said. "Look at this street! Rocks!
Dirt! Glass shards!"
        "But those shoes keep your feet soft and tender. If someday
you have to walk barefoot, you'll get cuts and blisters. You won't be
able to do it. Face it, you're a shoe addict."
        He just scowled.
        I smiled. "Isn't it the same thing...?"
        "No!," he bellowed. "Calculator addiction is a scourge! The
digital demon is evil! The Calculator Pushers must be stopped!"
        A confused-looking matron was passing by. She pressed a five
dollar bill into his palm. He smiled, thanking her profusely.
        "Let's see...," he mused. "I had thirty-one dollars, so that
makes thirty-seven."
        I said: "Thirty-six."
        He gave me a quizzical look.
        "Thirty-one plus five is thirty-six, not thirty-seven."
        "Oh. Well, you know what I mean!"
        "Yes," I muttered, "I guess I do..."
        "What was that?"
        I said, "Never mind..." That much I know for sure: no mind,

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