Monday, December 27, 2010

Of blogging breaks and old profs who resemble Steve Earle ...

After the last post I decided to take a little break from blogging, do a little hunting and get through Christmas before starting up again. I was going to wait until after the first of the year before resuming, but I was perusing our state newspaper yesterday and came across an interesting story about one of my old college professors.

From this story in the Oklahoman

History Professor William Savage doesn't own a cell phone, a new computer provided him by the University of Oklahoma sits untouched in its box in his office, and his e-mail address is listed as “I$have$no$”

“I embrace the forms of technology I find useful,” Savage explains. That includes a few “gizmos,” as he calls most devices that are more contemporary than the pencil and legal pad he has used to compose 11 books and countless journal articles over his decades in academia. For instance, since he likes movies, Savage has a VCR and two DVD players he uses with his cathode ray tube TV sets, provided they have “enough holes” to accept the wires those devices require.

In today's light-speed wireless, electronic, digital technocracy, where most people are consumed by a 24-7 matrix of smart phones, social media and texting, Savage ambles along with “snail mail,” landline phones and books printed on that flat material that appears from laser printers. The “troglodyte.” That's what Savage, who won't reveal his age other than to say he is a “pre-Boomer,” has been called, he said. “Mostly it's ‘fossil,' ‘geezer,' ‘coot.' My colleagues frequently refer to me as a Luddite.”

Savage, who tries to have a cigar in his hand whenever he has a photo taken “because it's offensive,” doesn't care for e-books, cell phones jabber in the checkout line and people who e-mail co-workers at the next desk. And don't get him started on Boolean logic. To explain his opposition to what others might call progress, Savage turns to his expertise in Oklahoma history. When farmers needed fences on the Great Plains, he said, there wasn't enough timber to build them with split wooden rails as farmers in the forested East did. Barbed wire solved that problem. When farmers on the arid prairies needed water, the windmill pump was invented.

The point is that the Industrial Revolution solved existing problems, Savage said. These days, he said, countless electronic whatnots solve problems that don't exist and fill needs we don't have, at least until marketers convince us we do. “An awful lot of the stuff made available and marketed to people is nonessential.” The result, he said, is a din of self-expression a thousand miles wide and a quarter-inch deep. “Nobody thinks about much anymore,” he said. “They're too busy talking.”

I took (If I recall correctly) three of Savage's upper-division western history classes at a time when I was seriously flirting with changing my major from public administration to history. Why I didn't is one of those enduring mysteries we tend to look back on twenty or so years later and ask ourselves "Why didn't I? Just what the hell was I thinking?"

As a teacher Savage was exactly as he comes across in the article: a gruff, grouchy, abrupt, opinionated and generally misanthropic asshole who spoke his mind and didn't really give a shit who it might have offended. His classes were great fun, and to this day it's one of my great regrets that I didn't run screaming from the OU public administration program and into the history department.

But in reading the article it occurred to me that "Wild Bill" Savage (as he was known among students) is a dead ringer for Steve Earle. Not young, lean, hairy, dangerous-looking Guitar Town Steve Earle, but portly, post-addiction, male-pattern baldness The Wire Steve Earle. I didn't realize this at the time, of course, because back then Steve Earle looked like this...

While my professor looked (even back then) pretty much like this...

Not much resemblence, is there? But that was then and this is now...

So I guess the moral of the story is: if you're a lean, hairy, cool and dangerous looking outlaw country-rock/folk singer-songwriter, don't go on a decade-long booze, coke and heroin bender or you'll end up looking like a portly, balding history professor who hates technology.

Don't say you weren't warned...


  1. Steve Earle? More like Berle Ives. Or Ted Kaczynski.

    I like how he thinks, and I agree with his statements about technology that we don't need. But it must be very interesting for his students, who are accustomed to being able to email professors, and get class PowerPoints. These poor little buggers don't know any other world.