Just Because You Can…

Man of Dublin James Joyce

I’ve made no secret of my hatred – hatred! – of technology’s impact on drinking.  I continuously search for bars without televisions and fellow drinkers who leave their digital devices stowed away.  Yet I discovered an article last week that makes me feel I’m on the wrong side of history: technology will inevitably and completely ruin drinking sooner or later.

My latest evidence – a short blurb appearing on the New Yorker’s Book Bench Blog: “‘Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,’ wrote [James] Joyce in ‘Ulysses.’  A software developer has solved the puzzle. But why would you want to?”

I re-read the two short sentences a few times, filled with a mixture of sadness and disdain; the last sentence sat in my mouth like sour milk – why would you want to?  The Book Bench had linked the words “has solved the puzzle.”  Clicking the link loaded a Belfast Telegraph article describing the work of one Rory McCann, a software developer, who “worked out an algorithm – a computer equation – which found how to criss-cross the capital, from north to south and east to west, away from the temptation of any pub.”  In other words, McCann’s computer was able to determine the worst way to see Dublin.

Like most other bar trivia and drinking riddles, McCann began his effort by doing things the old fashioned way: “I started thinking about how you would go about it, the pen and paper route which many people have tried, and which gets very tiring very fast, then I decided to try it on the computer.” 

I was still stewing long after finishing the article, but why?  There was no reason to be this upset over some guy solving Joyce’s puzzle, still my feelings remained.  The New Yorker’s words replayed inside my brain: why would you want to?  Why would you want to?  I couldn’t answer the question.

Perhaps my anger towards young Mr. McCann is unfairly placed.  Rather, maybe I should widen the aperture of my criticism to all youngsters, based on a piece of recent news that was best stated by The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. schoolchildren have made little progress since 2006 in their understanding of key historical themes, including the basic principles of democracy and America’s role in the world.”  To me, these stories were somehow linked: they were two examples of history’s disrespect and an over-reliance on technology.  Is the younger generation predisposed to “googling” their way out of memorization or employing computer power, not brain power, to solve challenges?

It’s an understandable stretch to argue one Irishman and American elementary students writ large are ruining my ability to enjoy a quiet cocktail.  But might it signal a larger trend, especially with those in their younger twenties: the slow demise of a dying breed, we traditional, technological Luddites who prefer winning arguments with anecdotal evidence and proof presented on cocktail napkins.

So I will remain the stalwart dinosaur, not accepting technology’s predetermined destruction of bar culture.  I will not allow drunken quarrels over trivia be a distant memory, killed by the absence of knowledge and ubiquitous internet connections.  And I hope Mr. McCann learns an important fact: that some questions are best left unanswered.  Because why would you want to ruin the fun for the rest of us?

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  
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One Comment

  1. Yo THF!

    While I too enjoy a bar free of televisions and other technological distractions, I regret to inform you that I am guilty of consulting the interwebs during a “trivial pursuit” or fact finding mission while drinking with friends (either on the patio or at a bar). I wouldn’t despair too much though if I were you. While I can’t speak of the DC bar scene, I will tell you that the Philly bar scene is hopping, and that there are a plethora of eating and drinking establishments that do not rely too heavily on television to entertain the drinking masses. Now if they would only do something about the volume of the music. It’s great to have music in the background, but sometimes it just gets too damn loud!


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